Projecting the Mountaineers’ Depth Chart

projecting the mountaineers' depth chart

The “camp” portion of Fall Camp came to a close last Thursday with the West Virginia Mountaineers’ second scrimmage, which was closed to the press. We offered our predictions for offensive surprises and defensive surprises. The team will likely release its first iteration of an opening game depth chart Monday afternoon. That depth chart, of course, will probably still include a few mentions of the word “or” with respect to starters. Only one player can get the start at each position, however, so we offer our thoughts on how things will shake out over the next ten days. This does not mean, however, that second and third position players will not see the field or contribute meaningfully. Based on what we have heard and seen to date, we take our shot at projecting the Mountaineers’ depth chart against the Pitt Panthers.

Projecting the Mountaineers’ Depth Chart

Offensive Depth Chart

We start with the offensive skill positions. For running back, we believe Tony Mathis firmly holds the starting spot. We anticipate some sets with two runnings backs, and we anticipate a healthy rotation of backups Justin Johnson, Jaylen Anderson, and CJ Donaldson. That said, Mathis is the guy until proven otherwise.

At wide receiver, the pecking order is clear. Sam James, Bryce Ford-Wheaton, and Kaden Prather represent WVU’s first-team wideouts in base sets. On four-wide sets, Reese Smith represents the fourth starter. Again, this does not mean that the other receivers in the room will not see a share of snaps. We expect Cortez Braham and Jeremiah Aaron to see the field. That said, these four offer the best combination of talent and veteran leadership. They have earned their nods.

We think it should be no surprise that we call J.T. Daniels the starting quarterback.

At tight end, remember that we are predicting the depth chart against Pitt, not the depth chart for the rest of the season. The staff reports that Mike O’Laughlin still finds himself recovering from injury, and he has not been full-speed as of yet. As a result, while we think O’Laughlin, once healthy, is still the leader of the room, Brian Polendey represents your starter for Week One.

Finally, we move on to the offensive line. We almost want to hedge at right tackle and include an “or,” as we think that competition is both healthy and ongoing. Brandon Yates and Ja’Quay Hubbard offer different skillsets. That said, forced to pick, we will go with Yates as your Week One start. Doug Nester remains the starter at right guard. Opposite them, James Gmiter and Wyatt Milum represent the starters at left guard and left tackle, respectively. Zach Frazier, of course, will hold down the starting center spot for the third straight year.

Defensive Depth Chart

On the other side of the ball, we think seven spots have been fixed for quite some time. Indeed, the front six offer no surprises.

On the defensive line, for example, we see Taijh Alston, Jordan Jefferson, and Dante Stills manning the three spots. Additionally, Jared Bartlett earns the starting nod at the hybrid bandit position. As fans know, the bandit flexes as both a fourth-down lineman and an outside linebacker.

For the second line, the starters established themselves in Spring Camp. Lance Dixon maintains his vice grip at Will. That said, the steady veteran Exree Loe offers plenty of experience and snaps. He will also see the field. At Mike, Lee Kpogba offers the Mountaineers a fresh face. He has, however, proven himself to be the leader of the defense early. He will prove why early.

At cornerback, we see the first of the true competitions heading into Fall Camp. On one side, of course, Charles Woods gets the nod. That much was never in doubt. On the other side, however, the competition likely remains open. We think Andrew Wilson-Lamp gets the nod in Week One. We do expect to see some nickel packages and rotation at the starting spot opposite Woods throughout the season, though.

Finally, we come to safety, where all three spots were in play at various points through Spring and Fall Camp. That said, we are predicting a fixed group of starters against Pitt. We go with Marcis Floyd at cat safety, Aubrey Burks at free safety, and Jasir Cox at spear. We likely see the most rotation of any position at safety. Some guys, like Davis Mallinger and Hershey McLaurin are simply too good to keep off the field.

Special Teams Depth Chart

In projecting the Mountaineers’ depth chart, we hesitate most on special teams, particularly for returners. The staff rotated several players for punt and kick return throughout Fall Camp. Additionally, the staff spoke well of plenty of those bodies. We think they have several game ready. As a result, we are least confident in our projection for returners.

For punter, we think this could also go either way. Oliver Straw offers the Mountaineers a different kind of leg who has significant control over the ball. He does not yet seem to have the consistency that Kholton McGhee offers, nor does he have the experience. As a result, we think McGhee starts the season as punter, but we would not be surprised if the staff rotates the two in-game depending on the situation. Straw’s skill set might make for an intriguing coffin corner type, for example.

For kickoffs, Parker Grothaus came in specifically to help the Mountaineers here. They have struggled to keep the ball in play and in getting the ball out of the back of the end zone on kickoffs for three years. Grothaus can help improve the team in both areas. For kicker, Casey Legg retains this job and offers the team their steadiest specialist presence.

For returns, we think James likely finds his way as the leading punt returner and as one of two leading kick returners, with Anderson manning the second spot there.

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