WVU’s offense is full of youth as spring practices begin

MORGANTOWN — Through injuries and absences, WVU’s skill positions were filled with youth and inexperience when the Mountaineers opened Spring practice Monday morning.

Other than the offensive line, WVU’s entire offense skews younger this season. In addition, the Mountaineers are without senior quarterback Garrett Greene, who missed Monday to attend his grandfather’s funeral, as well as junior running back CJ Donaldson and senior tight end Kole Taylor, who will both be limited as they recover from injuries this spring.

Greene will be back for the team’s next practice on Wednesday, but his absence left the Mountaineers with only two scholarship quarterbacks on Monday, redshirt sophomore Nicco Marchiol and redshirt freshman Sean Boyle. Marchiol played in nine games as the team’s primary backup last season.

“We’re going to be intentional about getting Nicco a lot of first-team reps,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said last week. “Playing that position is really hard and sometimes it happens really fast for people and sometimes it takes a little time and it’s taken some time for him. He’s done some good things, but it’s taken a little bit of time. I think he’s a little bit more at ease because he’s more confident and so he doesn’t have as much stress on him.”

Serving as the top quarterback on Monday, offensive coordinator Chad Scott said he’s already seen improvement in Marchiol’s game.

“He had a bad habit of just staring down defenders all the time and making poor decisions,” Scott said. “(Monday) he made a thrown, a touchdown to EJ Horton, where if he had just stared at the defender, that would have told him not to throw the ball. He looked at the coverage and the grass and based on that, it told him to throw the ball and it looked like a scary throw, but it was a phenomenal throw that went for a touchdown.”

Other quarterbacks are redshirt junior Jackson Crist and redshirt sophomore Scott Kean.

WVU faces a similar situation at running back, with only two scholarship players available this spring. Donaldson, who had surgery before the team’s bowl game in December, will be non-contact all spring, leaving just sophomore Jaheim White and redshirt junior Jaylen Anderson. White broke out as a freshman All-American last year, but Scott said he’s far from a finished product.

“On first and second down, that kid’s absolutely special,” Scott said. “What he needs to work on this spring in particular is pass protection recognition. If he can become a three-down back…he’s going to be on a whole other level, because he’s special.”

Anderson disappointed last season, averaging just 3.3 yards on only 44 carries.

“The best thing about Jaylen is his self-awareness,” Scott said. “He was really aware about the way he played, the way he practiced and the way he prepared. He understood that, to this day, he hadn’t put his best foot forward from a consistency standpoint.”

Other running backs are redshirt freshman Judah Price, the 2022 Kennedy Award winner as the best high school football player in W.Va., and freshman walk-on Clay Ash.

At tight end, the team does have an experienced returner in redshirt junior Treylan Davis, who has played in every game the last two seasons as a primary blocker. Davis doesn’t figure to benefit the most with Taylor out, however.

“We want to be careful because we already know what he is,” Brown said. “You have so many hits in you and we want to make sure we use some of those hits when he’s blocking in the fall, not necessarily in the spring.”

Instead, redshirt sophomore Will Dixon has the most to gain with increased reps this spring. Dixon has yet to see the field entering his third year as a Mountaineer.

“We need Will Dixon to take the next step,” Scott said. “Will’s a big kid, athletic, tough and so we really need him to come on…We know what those two guys can do, Kole and Treylan Davis. I thought (Monday) was a really good step for (Dixon).”

At wide receiver, the team isn’t missing anyone this spring but is just naturally young at the position. The old guys in the room are senior EJ Horton, who has 26 career catches, redshirt junior Preston Fox, who has 31 career catches and Oklahoma State transfer Jaden Bray, who has 48 career receptions. The bulk of the receiving corps is made up of returning first-year players from last season — redshirt sophomore Hudson Clement and sophomores Rodney Gallagher and Traylon Ray.

Scott said this offseason was all about those young receivers getting stronger and more confident.

“They had confidence, but they also understood they weren’t as strong as they knew they could be,” Scott said. “Of course, they were young guys, and so that was their primary focus this offseason, get stronger. Those guys got strong and I think they got a lot more explosive as well.”

The Mountaineers continue with their second of 15 spring practices on Wednesday morning.