MORGANTOWN — The path to becoming West Virginia’s starting center is wide open for junior Chase Behrndt.
Though he’s still competing with redshirt freshman Briason Mays for the position, the coaching staff certainly seems to be hoping Behrndt steps up and makes the job his own.
“I think it is time for Chase,” Mountaineers coach Neal Brown said. “He has been a part-time player. He played well at some points during his career, but I think it is time to turn the page. He has leadership skills. He is snapping the ball well so far … we haven’t had an error at the [shot]gun snap.”
Brown joked that a snap will probably go awry now that he’s made that information public.
He also praised Mays.
“Both those guys have locked in a really good competition there,” Brown said.
Offensive line coach Matt Moore has had to think fast since arriving from Troy with Brown in January. Returning starter Matt Jones transferred to Youngstown State, and backup Jacob Buccigrossi is watching spring practice with his arm in a sling after shoulder surgery.
Though Behrndt has not played center, he’s the type of player Moore likes at the position.
“His body type, he’s a center,” Moore said. “He’s smart. He’s been around long enough now to where he’s respected, and he really has great voice control and communication. That’s the big thing, is being able to communicate with other guys.”
Mays has frequently been practicing alongside Behrndt as West Virginia’s No. 1 left guard. Even if Mays doesn’t win the competition to be center, there’s potentially a place for him in the starting lineup.
“I have to see what he can do,” Moore said. “That’s the biggest thing with all of these guys. We just have to see what they can do … He’s definitely going to fit in.”
West Virginia is still without junior linebacker Brendan Ferns, who is not practicing or even dressing out in a red non-contact jersey.
“He has not been medically cleared right now,” Brown said.
Brown didn’t elaborate on the issue Ferns is dealing with.
Injuries have been the running theme of the former four-star recruit’s career. Ferns redshirted his freshman season due to a preseason knee injury. In 2017, he played only four games before a shoulder injury shelved him for the year. Last year, Ferns missed the first eight games after another knee injury in spring practice. He did play on special teams against Oklahoma and Syracuse to close out the season.
Junior wide receiver T.J. Simmons talked to the media for the first time since the end of last season. Simmons was involved in one of the defining moments of 2018 when he was flagged for unnecessary roughness after continuing to block an Oklahoma defensive back well out of bounds.
Rather than being on the doorstep of a go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown after a long Kennedy McKoy run, the Mountaineers were pushed back to midfield. Shortly thereafter, a Sooners strip-sack of Will Grier turned into a fumble return for a touchdown that effectively killed WVU’s hopes of reaching the Big 12 title game.
Simmons said he was just playing the game as he was taught growing up and feels there shouldn’t have been a flag.
“Even in high school, my coaches emphasized that when you don’t have the ball, you’ve got to block,” Simmons said. “If I don’t block on the perimeter, they might bounce a play out and it doesn’t score.
“Like the Oklahoma game … If I didn’t block that dude out of bounds, Kennedy would’ve got tackled. I’m just blocking to the whistle, playing to the whistle.”
Simmons on quarterbacks
As he competes for a role as one of West Virginia’s starting receivers, Simmons has a pretty good view of how the quarterback battle is going. He said he’s getting a good feel for the differences between Jack Allison and Austin Kendall.
“Jack, he’s a tall guy. It’s easy to see him behind the line,” Simmons said. “Austin, he gets the ball out pretty quick. He’s not as tall, so you can’t really see him. You have to expect the ball whenever it’s coming. But I’m a receiver, so whoever’s throwing, I’m trying to catch it. It really doesn’t matter to me.”