Football, Sports, WVU Sports

COLUMN: WVU has a new receivers coach — now it needs some receivers

WVU football filled one of its few coaching vacancies this week, bringing back former graduate assistant Bilal Marshall as wide receivers coach. With Marshall on staff, all WVU needs now is receivers for him to actually coach.

The Mountaineers have lost all four of their top receivers from last season — two to the NFL Draft and two to the transfer portal — all of whom had remaining years of eligibility. That leaves WVU with just five returning scholarship players at the position and three incoming scholarship freshmen. Not exactly a full arsenal.

Leading the paltry group of returners are former JUCO transfers Jeremiah Aaron and Cortez Braham, who made 14 and 12 receptions, respectively, last season. Redshirt-freshman Preston Fox made four receptions, completing all of WVU’s returning production from its receivers in 2022. Former walk-on Graeson Malashevich and freshman Jarel Williams are also on scholarship, but did not make any receptions last season.

The incoming freshmen include top recruit Rodney Gallagher, TJ Johnson and Traylon Ray. While Gallagher is expected to get on the field early as a slot receiver, it’s risky business depending on production from incoming freshmen. 

That leaves the transfer portal as WVU’s best way to bring an influx of talent and sorely needed experience into the wide receiver room, which head coach Neal Brown talked about during last month’s signing day press conference. 

“You’ve got to look at areas of need and as we go through that, I think receiver is one,” Brown said. “And we’re really pushing for a pass-receiving tight end.”

The Mountaineers have already been active in the portal by bringing in Kent State transfer Ja’Shaun Poke. Poke made 31 receptions for 362 yards and a touchdown with the Golden Flashes last season, and although his transfer has not yet been made official, he’s updated his social media profiles with pictures of him in WVU gear.

Another area that could help the receiving corps is adding a pass-catching tight end like Brown wants. WVU’s top tight ends last season, Treylan Davis and Brian Polendey, were primarily used as blockers, combining for just 11 receptions all season. WVU dipped back into the portal recently and pulled out former LSU tight end Kole Taylor. 

Taylor was seldomly used by the Tigers, catching just five passes last season, but he has 17 total career receptions, more than Polendey and Davis have combined.

Finally, the Mountaineers can expect some receiving help out of their strongest offensive position group, running back. WVU’s backs caught 25 passes last season, mainly coming out of the backfield, but Brown has talked about the possibility of splitting one or more of the running backs out wide next year.

“What we want to do as we move forward offensively is have more versatility in our tight ends and our running backs,” Brown said. “We’re going to have multiple pieces at running back and we’re going to need to get more than one running back on the field. To do that, you’ve got to have some guys who can do different things.”

Brown singled out returners CJ Donaldson and Jaylen Anderson and incoming freshman Jahiem White as players with above-average route-running skills who could play split out.

Utilizing tight ends and running backs helps a little bit, but does not fix WVU’s biggest problem, which is currently a simple lack of talent in the receiving corps. There are a few intriguing question marks in the room, but no answers for a position group that the Mountaineers cannot really afford to under-perform in 2023. Making a splashy addition through the portal is looking more and more like WVU’s best option this offseason.

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