Charlie Benton injury further depletes linebacker position at West Virginia

MORGANTOWN — In the wake of Charlie Benton’s season-ending knee injury, “fake news” struck the West Virginia football depth chart.

This week’s release from the sports information department showed redshirt freshman Exree Loe as the new starter at Sam linebacker, but that sounded particularly odd to one guy who certainly should know the truth — defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.

“That’s not right,” Gibson said. “Shea Campbell is going to be the guy at Sam, but they’ll be splitting time.”

A former walk-on from Morgantown High, Campbell is a 5-foot-11 redshirt junior who bulked up to 235 pounds. He played 37 defensive snaps against Tennessee after Benton went down in the second quarter.

Now Campbell figures to be in the starting 3-3 alignment when No. 14 West Virginia (1-0) meets Youngstown State in the home opener.

“Early on (against Tennessee), I think Shea was a little nervous, but once he settled in, I thought he did some good things for us. He made a few tackles,” Gibson said.

“Shea’s very smart, and he knows our system. He’s a guy that I have confidence in to put in the game. Do I have confidence to put him in for 80 snaps right now? No, and Shea understands that.”

That signals a platoon will be in order moving forward.

Whereas Campbell saw his first college action last week, so did Loe — appearing on four snaps at linebacker and on several special-teams units.

Loe was a three-star recruit as a defensive back last year out of Johnstown, Pa. He played his senior year of high school at 175 pounds but grew into a linebacker during his redshirt season.

“I told him, ‘Just keep eating, bud, and let your body take over,’” Gibson said.

The agility Loe showed while playing cornerback in high school gives him upside as a linebacker in West Virginia’s 3-3 stack.

Expect some wide-eyed moments, however, as he sees his first extended action. Loe might have been further along if not for missing spring practice with a pectoral injury.

“Exree is athletic. Exree can run. Exree is physical,” Gibson said. “Now Exree has got to step up, and that’s what I told him last Sunday.”

Benton’s injury further depleted a position that lost senior Quondarius Qualls to a knee injury in the spring. With his rehab progressing, Qualls could be cleared to return in the latter stages of the regular season.

Defensive coaches also are hopeful about the return of Brendan Ferns, whose future availability at Mike could allow for more shuffling.

Until then, Gibson aims to develop the Campbell-Loe duo while tinkering with more of the 4-2 front that surfaced for five plays against Tennessee.

“Exree has a lot of work to do to be able to play every down,” Gibson said. “I’d love to get 15 or 20 snaps a game out of him, maybe a few more out of Shea, and then mix in some four-down.”

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