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Looking at West Virginia’s Pre-Spring Roster

Fresh off of a nine-win season, Head Coach Neal Brown worked hard to keep as much of the Mountaineers’ roster together and bring in some critical pieces to fill the gaps. While the names and composition of the team will undoubtedly change (at least some) between the Spring game and the start of Fall Camp, we are looking at West Virginia’s pre-Spring roster.

Strengths and Weaknesses from the 2023 Season

We look first at the strengths and weaknesses of the West Virginia Mountaineers in the 2023 season as this allows us to focus on how well Brown and his staff addressed particular team needs heading into next season.

Garrett Greene offered the Mountaineers strong play at quarterback this past year. The offensive line kept the pocket fairly clean and opened up plenty of holes in the run game, which performed well itself. Kole Taylor gave the Mountaineers a serious playmaking threat from the tight end spot, too. On the other hand, West Virginia saw inconsistent play from its wide receivers hurt the unit’s efficiency numbers. Overall, however, the WVU offense played well. Indeed, the unit averaged 31.5 points per game, making it the program’s best unit with Brown by a decent margin.

On defense, the Mountaineers regressed the past two seasons, but the unit still had some high spots. The defensive line, in particular, performed extremely well rotating up to nine bodies in most games. At linebacker, the Mountaineers had some good play marred a little by inconsistency and injury. At secondary, West Virginia struggled as a whole despite some strong individual performances. On special teams, the specialists performed well. Michael Hayes finished the season perfect on extra points and 17 for 21 on field goals. Oliver Straw averaged 43 yards per punt and improved significantly over the course of the season. Coverage units, however, suffered at times, giving up several return touchdowns on the season.

Who Did the Mountaineers Lose on Offense?

Offensively, the Mountaineers fortunately do not lose a ton of their production at the skill positions. Justin Johnson left the running back room via the transfer portal, and Devin Carter left the receiver room as a graduate. While WVU loses a few more players to the transfer portal from its 2023 offense, none of those players offered West Virginia much production last year.

On the other hand, West Virginia loses two big pieces Zach Frazier and Doug Nester from its offensive line. Frazier has been a stalwart in the center of the line, and his leadership traits are unquestioned. Ultimately, these two perhaps provide the biggest loss from the Mountaineers’ 2023 squad. Frazier will be missed most of all of the departing Mountaineers.

What About the Defense?

On defense, West Virginia loses a number of productive bodies. We exclude hybrid safety-linebacker Lance Dixon from that category of productive players since he was removed from the team fairly early in the season. We do, however, count him as a player the Mountaineers will need to replace. In fact, the Mountaineers lose four linebackers from its 2023 roster. In addition to Dixon, Jared Bartlett and Jalen Thornton will not return for 2024. However, the biggest loss to the room is Lee Kpogba, whose eligibility expired after last season. Kpogba led the team in tackles for the past two seasons, and that production will be hard to replace.

In the secondary, the Mountaineers also lose four productive student-athletes. Beanie Bishop unquestionably represents the biggest loss here, as he offered a bright spot and finished the season a consensus All-American cornerback. Unfortunately, he played his final year in college and will look to take his talents to the NFL. Marcis Floyd and Malachi Ruffin also graduate. While West Virginia suffered a few losses to the transfer portal from its secondary, only Hershey McLaurin offered the Mountaineers much production in 2023. Even he, however, suffered a substantial decline in snap counts throughout the year.

Finally, looking at West Virginia’s pre-Spring roster on the defensive line, West Virginia loses a starting defensive tackle (Mike Lockhart) for the second year in a row. Edge-rushing specialist Tomiwa Durojaiye also entered the transfer portal after the season.

Fine-Tuning the Offense

Outside of the offensive line, the Mountaineers simply did not lose much that they will miss in 2024. Carter was the team’s leading receiver in 2023, but they brought Jaden Bray from Oklahoma State in through the transfer portal to replace the height and hands of Carter. Further, West Virginia brought in four freshman receivers to chase promising sophomores Traylon Ray and Rodney Gallagher for snaps. Former walk-ons Preston Fox and Hudson Clement and speedy EJ Horton, each of whom proved capable of making big plays, also return for 2024. Ultimately, the Mountaineers 2024 roster has 12 scholarship players in the receiving room. Eight of them will be in Morgantown for Spring camp.

Johnson left the running back room, but he carried the ball just nine times. The Mountaineers also added two running backs to the room through its Class of 2024 high school recruiting class. While neither enrolled early, both will compete for snaps behind returnees CJ Donaldson and Jahiem White with the other two veterans in the room. In total, West Virginia features four running backs for Spring camp with two more arriving this Summer.

At tight end, the Mountaineers have not lost any players from a full room of six returning scholarship players. They added one more in their 2024 class, Jack Sammarco, who enrolled early and will be available for Spring camp. Most importantly, their best blocker (Treylan Davis) and playmaker (Taylor) return. Similarly, at quarterback, everyone returns, and they add freshman Khalil Watkins to the room for the future.

On the offensive line, despite losing two veteran starters, the room remains in good hands, as the top five returnees each bring back plenty of snaps. Wyatt Milum looks to step forward as a leader for the unit. That said, the Mountaineers brought in redshirt sophomore Xavier Bausley from Jacksonville State to compete for a tackle or guard spot on the line. The unit may regress some, but Brown and his staff certainly realized the need to add another body with experience to push the unit forward.

Fixing the Defense

Defensively, West Virginia sees plenty of needs heading into the 2024 campaign. They need to replace Bishop at cornerback, they need to replace Kpogba on the second level, and they need to build depth at safety. Bishop’s most obvious replacement, however, is already in Morgantown. Before the 2023 season, WVU brought in Montre Miller to compete for one of its starting cornerback slots. Unfortunately, Miller suffered a season-ending injury in the season opener. Miller came to Morgantown with lofty expectations, and he has the athleticism and experience to meet or exceed them. On the other side, West Virginia brought in Ayden Garnes and TJ Crandall to compete with Jacolby Spells to start opposite Miller. WVU also added two freshmen to offer some depth in the room. Currently, West Virginia will see eight scholarship players at cornerback in 2024.

At safety (including spear), West Virginia returns the players who finished the 2023 campaign as starters. Behind them, however, depth is modest. They added three safeties through their 2024 recruiting class, and two of them (Israel Boyce and Zae Jennings) enrolled early. Still, they have just seven scholarship bodies to fill three positions on the field.

At defensive line, the Mountaineers brought in a transfer (TJ Jackson) and two early-enrollee freshmen to preserve depth and help replace Lockhart and Durojaiye. Entering the 2024 season, WVU has 15 defensive linemen on the roster (for now). 14 of those will be available this Spring.

Finally, looking at West Virginia’s pre-Spring roster, we look to the linebacker corps. They brought in Ty French to help solidify their bandit position, and he seems to offer the prototypical edge rushing run-stopper combination that has been lacking at the position. The Mountaineers return six contributors from last season, and they look forward to a healthy return of promising redshirt freshman Josiah Trotter. They also added Reid Carrico from Ohio State to the room. While it will take some time to replace Kpogba, they have options.

What’s Next?

As of now, the Mountaineers have 89 scholarship players heading into the 2024 season. They are only permitted 85, so they will have to balance carefully their additional needs against their maximum scholarship count. We can fairly expect some players to leave after Spring camp, as has happened each of the past several years. Where they come and how many they lose is anybody’s guess at this point. For our part, we would anticipate losing one or two tight ends from a very crowded room, potentially one quarterback, a running back, and a wide receiver. There are two or three other candidates, but, ultimately, the Mountaineers would like to maintain roster consistency and stay as close to 85 scholarships as possible.

That said, they have some needs of their own left to fill. The safety room lacks depth. They could use another playmaker there as well. They could also use a heavy-hitting playmaker at wide receiver. Ideally, they would lose just seven players after Spring camp and add a proven playmaker at wideout, a proven defender at safety, and two more sophomore or junior bodies at safety to replenish depth while minimizing the need to reshuffle the deck chairs after next season.

Photo Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

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