West Virginia University is wrapping up summer conditioning before Dana Holgorsen’s seventh preseason football training camp begins on Sunday, July 30. Who’s on the spot?
Here are five names to watch this year, in no particular order:
Photo by Dale Sparks/WVU Athletic communications
White, once a four-star recruit out of Lackawanna Community College who turned down
offers from USC and Penn State to play in Tony Gibson’s West Virginia defense,
is one of the players on the spot in this year’s defense simply because of the
position he plays – spur safety.
The spur has to be versatile enough to cover small slot receivers out in space in
passing situations and also take on tackles, guards and fullbacks at the line of
scrimmage during running plays. It requires a big, physical football player with
speed and athleticism to do all of this.
When Gibson has a spur that fits all of those qualifications and can remain on the
football field in any situation – such as K.J. Dillon did in 2015 – it means he has
the freedom to call any defense he wants without tipping his hand to opposing offenses.
That’s how important the spur safety is to West Virginia’s overall defensive scheme.
Photo by Bill Amatucci Jr./WVU Athletic communications
West Virginia will be breaking in a new center in Matt Jones, a talented sophomore
from Hubbard, Ohio, and one of the guys lined up next to him, senior left guard
Kyle Bosch, is going to be a key factor in Jones’ development.
Bosch, a former Michigan transfer, is unquestionably the leader of the offensive
line this year and he will be the player Holgorsen relies on to keep that group
organized on the field during games.
Holgorsen breathed a big sigh of relief during last spring’s Gold-Blue Game when
Bosch got up and walked off the field after suffering a minor ankle injury. He
is WVU’s most seasoned player on the offensive line.
Photo by bill amatucci sr./WVU Athletic communications
West Virginia’s defense felt the stinging loss of free safety Dravon Askew-Henry
last year when he went down with a knee injury during preseason camp. However,
the junior’s damaged ligament has since healed and he’s been given full medical
clearance to resume his Mountaineer career.
Once the top defensive prospect on West Virginia’s recruiting board when he signed
out of Aliquippa, Pa., the former ESPN.com true freshman All-American is a ball
hawk capable of making game-breaking plays, such as the pick-six he came up with at
Oklahoma State during his freshman season.
A healthy Askew-Henry will also provide over-the-top help to untested starting corners
Elijah Battle and Hakeem Bailey.
Photo by brent kepner/WVU Athletic communications
Senior Justin Crawford is the leading returning rusher in the Big 12 after generating
1,184 yards and an impressive 7.3 yards-per-carry average in 2016. He has the jets
to cross the goal line when he’s out in the open, and Holgorsen is hopeful Crawford
can become a much more frequent visitor to the end zone this fall.
For a player with his speed and elusiveness, scoring just five touchdowns as he did
in 2016 isn’t going to cut it this year. If Crawford can remain healthy and he
touches the football more than 200 times this season, either by carrying the ball
or by becoming a pass receiver out of the backfield, expect his touchdown total
to swell considerably in 2017.
Crawford was named to the 29-member preseason All-Big 12 football team announced
earlier this month.
Photo by WVU Athletic communications
Not since Jeff Hostetler first pulled a gold and blue jersey over his shoulder pads
has a transfer quarterback’s WVU debut been as eagerly anticipated as Will Grier’s.
Grier played the first six games of his redshirt freshman campaign at Florida in
2015, leading the Gators to a 6-0 record, before his season ended prematurely when
the NCAA deemed impermissible an over-the-counter supplement he was taking to gain
weight. Soon afterward, the former Parade Magazine National Player of the Year
departed the Florida swamps for the hills of West Virginia.
Grier immediately won over the Mountaineer locker room last year with his willingness
to help the team in any manner, including playing on the scout team, and now he’s
ready to use all that built-up locker room cred to lead the team this fall when
the games count. Earlier this month, Grier was recognized as the preseason Big
12 newcomer of the year.