Talent is there, but WVU receivers still need depth

Many like to point fingers at new  Ohio State Buckeye quarterback Chris Chugunov for the  failures on offense at the end of last season for West Virginia.

While Chugunov’s shortcomings — especially compared to Will Grier — certainly played a role in the Mountaineers averaging  19.7 points per game the final three games of the season after Grier broke his right hand, a gassed and worn out receiving corps didn’t help matters.

The top four in the group,  David Sills, Ka’Raun White, Gary Jennings and Marcus Simms, all had great to above average campaigns, but no one behind them rose above the grate to take snaps away. It was a concern for coach Dana Holgorsen at the beginning of the season and by year’s end, turns out he was exactly right.

Reggie Roberson got important reps as a freshman, but he transferred out of the program.

Now, with camp winding down and Tennessee  game prep nearing its start, the same concerns still exist. The top four receivers are as good as any with Sills, Jennings Simms and Alabama transfer T.J. Simmons, but the rest have a lot to prove.

According to Holgorsen, the corps is separated into three groups —  four starters at the top, three backup veterans and four freshmen. If Holgorsen has his way, the newcomers will thrust their way into a backup role, giving depth that the Mountaineers desperately needed last season.

“I’m trying to get those freshmen to be number twos. The backups, right now, should be panicking because the older guys are helping the younger ones to beat out the older, backup guys,” Holgorsen said.

One of those freshman Holgorsen hoped to push forward was Dillon Spalding, but he’s out for the season following ankle surgery.

While Holgorsen didn’t name names, Dominique Maiden, Druw Bowen and William Crest are his veteran backups. Sam James, Bryce Wheaton and Randy Fields are his freshmen. And to get those freshmen to become as acclimated as quickly as possible, Holgorsen paired the starters with the youngsters — Jennings with Fields, Sills with Wheaton and Simmons with James.

“We can coach them two hours a week in the summer, which isn’t very much, so you want those guys to be able to do what [the older players] do by following them around and do what they do,” Holgorsen said.

Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital echoed the head coach, believing working with the best will pay off in the long run.

“They’re able to tell them what they’re going to be dealing with, what they’re doing wrong and how to approach things moving forward.”

And if the freshmen aren’t able to pick up the offense as quick as the coaching staff hopes, then the star talent at the top of the depth will once again have sore backs during the tough November stretch to end the season.

Follow Sean Manning on Twitter @SeanManning_DP. Email: smanning@dominionpost.com.

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