Disclaimer … because this was impossible for some people to understand last season, which was the debut edition of this “Eh, why not?” idea I dreamed up one night: This is NOT an official depth chart. I know it’s still going to make its rounds as an official depth chart, but it is not.
We’re not going to see a real depth chart, I don’t think, until Tuesday. That’s Dana Holgorsen’s first regular-season press conference and the team distributes game notes just before it. Early in that packet is a depth chart.
So, no, this is NOT a regular-season depth chart. This is the 2014 All-Camp team, a listing of the West Virginia players who made the most of, who helped themselves the most during, who were the talk of the 17 days of preseason camp. It’s based on my notes and observations and the things I hear when I talk to players and coaches and whoever else I chat up along the sideline or in the team building.
When I broke this thing out last year, I was careful to describe it as, “The players on offense and defense who made the best use of camp. Not necessarily stars and starters, but the people who came out of camp in a better situation than they were in when they entered it.”
Are we clear? So help me if you put this on a message board and say, “Dana’s lost his mind. Look at his depth chart for Alabama, Paul..”
Before we start, here’s last year’s all-camp team.
And here’s the 2014 squad…
QB: William Crest
The hype slowed once we came to grips with … well, we’re still not sure why he was returning punts, unless you truly believe it’s an option. I do not. I think Crest can play and that he will play. How and when is yet unknown, but it speaks loudly to his ability that we’re talking about a freshman causing Dana Holgorsen to consider breaking form and giving the kid a package of plays or a few series a game. Through it all, Dana said it’s hard for a true freshman to play quarterback and that the past two Heisman Trophy winners needed a redshirt. Crest won’t get one.
RB: Rushel Shell
There’s this theory floating around WVU that Shell might turn out to be better than Charles Sims, which is saying something. He’s a bigger back — and Sims wasn’t small — and, I think, he’s much better in the open field. This is an unusual combination, and the Mountaineers want to take full advantage. Shell has done his part by dropping weight, getting in very nice shape and running angrily. WVU is doing its part by giving Shell a lot of first-team reps, throwing him passes and trying to get him on kickoff returns. Coaches really like his hands — “Second-best, behind Mario,” someone told me — and 11 days before the start of the season, it’s fun to think bout Shell running screens plays.
FB/TE: Eli Wellman
Cody Clay is so solid and so valuable that this ought to be his spot, and I wonder if we’re crazy to think he could catch 20 passes this season. But Wellman has excited people as a blocker and a ball-carrier, and the combination is valuable for those diamond sets that are more dynamic when you can throw it or give it to a big back. I’m not yet sure he’s the second big back ahead of Garrett Hope, but I don’t think Hope is a runner. Wellman is, so, eventually, there’s a temptation to take that idea for a spin. That this wasn’t an option before explains Wellman’s spot. And don’t sleep on Wellman’s agility. The Owen Schmitt comparisons are apt. He can move and he has skill — WVU was worried about losing the kid to the MLB draft two years ago.
OT: Mike Calicchio
Picking offensive linemen or getting anyone to offer up possibilities was not easy because the starting five is set, impressive and not budging. There wasn’t much of an opportunity for anyone behind those five to make a mark. Exception: Calicchio, who can play guard and tackle and just couldn’t do that before. The fact he’s intent on staying on the shield on the punt team and has become a team leader with a voice and a scholarship shows how far he’s come and how far he’s willing to go.
OG: Mark Glowinski
Confession: I wasn’t sold-sold on Glowinski at the end of last season. A sampling of games didn’t do it for me, but I knew he had potential — he dominated TCU last season, and I said after that game I thought he played better than I’d seen a lineman play in a long time. So I watched Glowinski on the opening few days of camp and thought he looked terrific. He’s fast, man, and he’s strong. Those power plays look different, more crisp, when he’s pulling and hitting. But he’s just a different kid who’s come a long way. I wrote a story about Glowinski and his maturation last week. By 11 a.m. the day the story ran, I had calls and emails from seven people who knew him from Wilkes-Barre or junior college. He’s a rock.
C: Tyler Orlosky
What did you all think of the many stories written about the concern the offense has over breaking in a new center? What’s that? You didn’t read any? There’s a reason: Nobody said anything about that throughout camp. The sophomore’s name rarely ever came up in any regard. That was sort of startling to me, but Orlosky played a bunch last season (335 snaps) and never once in the offseason and then in camp ceded his spot to a converted guard or a backup. It wasn’t even considered. WVU did not want to worry about finding a center. Orlosky took care of that.
OG: Stone Underwood
He’s experiencing that “junior college transfer redshirts and then benefits” bump, and it sounds like it was especially true late in camp when things were more familiar and more comfortable, but also because he hurt his shoulder and missed some practices earlier. That was bad news when it happened because he was the team’s best backup lineman — “by far,” someone told me — but Underwood came back quickly enough that he wasn’t lost or passed. He can play guard and he can snap it if WVU needs it.
OT: Adam Pankey
One day at practice, I was watching with someone who’s seen a lot of WVU football for a decade or so. He told me this was the most athletic offensive line he’d seen from the Mountaineers. Pankey is one reason why. He’s a big kid (6-foot-6, 305 pounds) who can move and push and spin people out in space. He still needs to go through and benefit from some wars, and he’ll get one right away, but he’s not seeing slouches in practice. It looks like he’ll be able to handle himself out there, and that has to be a relief to Dana, Shannon Dawson and Clint Trickett. But both Pankey and right tackle Marquis Lucas provided relief in camp. Replacing two tackles is no fun for an offense. Those two were slotted as starters early and stayed there throughout, and not without challenges from promising players. Lucas is a veteran, which shouldn’t be held against him, but Pankey showed something with his staying power. He had an odd experience last season as he lost the early part of the season recovering from an ACL and was used as a spare part the rest of the way. If this is a look at full-time Pankey, it’s a good look.
WR: Vernon Davis
There’s a lot of proven talent and there are a lot of players who had good camps on the roster. When I took time to do some polling, the Miami transfer who spent a year here as a cornerback and then bounced between inside and outside receiver the last 17 months was the one mentioned most.
IR: Jordan Thompson
He was very good the first day – and understand how unusual it is for coaches on the first day to say a kid did well … and then consider it was Thompson — and he never dipped. For someone who gets knocked for playing well when it really doesn’t matter, that sustained performance to the finish was a very good sign for the offense. Maybe it’s just me, but I got the feeling before that WVU wanted to see Davis or K.J. Myers or Shelton Gibson or Jacky Marcellus take Thompson’s spot. Never happened, and mostly because of Thompson. We still need to see it happen in a game, or in many games, but his coaches believe they’re witnessing maturity, and his quarterback raves about how reliable Thompson has become.
WR: Kevin White
I know this isn’t much of a gamble, but near as I can tell, no one on the team has his peers more excited for what he’s about to do than White.
DE: Noble Nwachukwu
Here’s the most-nominated player on defense. Offensive linemen, defensive linemen, cornerbacks, receivers, it didn’t matter. They named Nwachukwu.
NG: Kyle Rose
This, to me, was something to watch throughout camp. Nose is a brutish position and it wore down Shaq Rowell without a reliable backup last season. Rose needs to eat a dozen donuts and put another 12 in his pocket to hit 300 pounds, so durability and stamina, to say nothing of performance for himself and the linebackers, was a concern. But he’s held up nicely and has taken to taking care of his body in new ways. And don’t get me wrong: He’s not an underdog. He could be bigger, but he’s not small and he can handle himself in there with his wrestling background and what he knows already of life on the defensive line. He’ll need a backup, but for now, Rose sticking at nose and managing to stand out is a big, big win for the defense and whatever changes it is to make this season.
DE: Shaq Riddick
There’s still a lot to learn about the FCS All-American, but what we know so far is he’s 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds and runs something silly like a 4.5 40, which means he can fly around the corner. Those are good building blocks. I’m not clear on when or how the defense will use him, though it doesn’t matter who starts up there as much as it matters how much a player plays. We know he’ll be on the field on third down and we believe he can play the run because, after all, he’s not new to college football. At minimum, after moving Rose and losing Will Clarke to the NFL, WVU needed someone who could play and make plays in 2014. Riddick is the candidate.
Spur: Dayron Wilson
Wilson didn’t merely keep the spot warm until K.J. Dillon came back. He earned a scholarship and kept Pitt transfer/Tony Gibson Guy Cullen Christian at a distance. He’ll play, but, again, when and how often is something of an unknown because Dillon is an every-down player and pass defenses won’t use two spurs. But that’s not the point of this exercise. It’s hard to look at Wilson at the start of camp and see him doing more than what he eventually did, right?
Sam: Edward Muldrow
I think when I see a depth chart, my eyes will go here first. Has be passed Isaiah Bruce? Did Bruce hold on? No matter who wins, how long will they battle? It seemed to me that Muldrow caught fire late in camp and at least drew even with Bruce to necessitate working Muldrow with the first-team, and no one poured water over that development. Part of me wonders if he’s a specialist who can play third down and rush the passer. Part of me has concerns about him lining up against Alabama. WVU has benched guys like Marvin Gross and Josh Francis before against Kansas State and LSU because they weren’t built to handle those opponents. But Muldrow is pretty much the same size as Bruce is and is a more able athlete. Put him next to Dillon and it’s a little easier. Gibson has a way of talking up everyone for reporters — he knows we want or need something, so he obliges — but I’ve noticed his eyes light up when it comes to Muldrow.
Mike: Al-Rasheed Benton
I’ve never talked to the New Jersey native and I’ve never seen him in the hallways in the Puskar Center, so what I’m about to tell you may be inaccurate or misleading. Then again, we’re here to talk about what happens on the field. This is a big, bad dude in the middle and he’s going to be one of the reason the linebackers are noticeably more athletic and more capable this season. He nearly avoided a redshirt last season, but he was a little too heavy and out of shape and that held him back in the end. He’s slimmer and thus quicker now and he started his ascent fairly early. Like Wilson and Wes Tonkery, Benton made the most of the days Nick Kwiatkoski couldn’t go and now it’s very hard to envision a scenario in which he doesn’t see playing time.
Will: Wes Tonkery
He’s basically Wilson watered with Miracle-Gro. Tonkery was riddled with injuries last season and didn’t practice in the spring. What on Earth was going to happen to him in camp? Uh, he nailed it. Brandon Golson’s status has to be a concern, because nobody in that locker room looks like him, but Tonkery is the brown paper bag that makes for easier breathing. This might be the biggest surprise and best performer in camp, but what really stood out to me was how often people bragged about his agility, “sneaky,” as some put it, but undeniable and made a little more dangerous by what he knows about this defense.
CB: Travis Bell
This has all happened very quietly, and coaches are careful not to say anything too nice about him yet since, you know, he was suspended the entire spring semester, but it sounded like Bell was pushing Ickey Banks before Banks stepped aside. I’m not saying he was going to take the spot from Banks, but Bell was doing a really nice job under conditions where compliments would arrive slowly. And again, it was without much fanfare, which is exactly what Gibson wants from cornerbacks. I guess I’m a little surprised he didn’t get a look at safety because of all the corners WVU has, but it turns out Bell was one of the four best corners on the roster. Prediction? He starts opposite Daryl Worley against Alabama.
BS: Jarrod Harper
Here’s another guy who was only going to do so much during or get so much from camp. Karl Joseph isn’t going anywhere, you know? But Harper gets a lot of praise for his attitude and his approach. He takes his backup reps seriously and studies Joseph closely. He’ll be valuable on special teams and he’s earned the trust that it takes to get on the field, but we’ll know more about how good Harper is and how much his coaches believe in him when we see how many snaps Joseph gets off early in the season. Joseph has to get a break and not play 98 percent of the snaps, which means Harper has to be good enough to be on the field.
FS: Dravon Henry
I’m not yet too concerned about the true freshman missing the scrimmage Saturday, and I nearly gave Jeremy Tyler the nod here for being the last man standing, but also playing well throughout camp. That said, assuming Henry isn’t injured, he’s starting against Alabama, which is a big-time achievement. He got a lot of pub early and his name came up all the time when players and coaches talked about singular plays or performances in a good-on-good part of practice. When the media was allowed to watch, he’d do something worth noting. His skill is simple: He’s got a great feel for the game and he’s going to fly around the defensive backfield and tip and defend and intercept passes. I’ve got a feeling he’s going to get a lot of tipped pass interceptions.
CB: Terrell Chestnut
We forget, but this was a mega-recruit, a four-time first-team all-state player who was a star on offense and defense when he signed in 2011. He came to WVU injured, which cost him his freshman season, and he’s picked up minor and severe injuries ever since. That said, in the small windows in which he’s been able and allowed to play, he’s been productive. He’s started. He’s covered half the field. He’s made plays. If it becomes a defensive backfield without Banks, if it comes down to Bell v. Chestnut, the Mountaineers have to feel pretty good about replacing a guy who started 12 games last season.