West Virginia University's football team began fall practice last Saturday in preparation for the September 5 opener against Liberty. There is good reason to be optimistic about the 2009 Mountaineers, but enough questions remain that the prognosis is a bit cloudy.
Most of last year's defense returns. In addition to those returnees include the return of linebacker Reed Williams who sat out last year after having both shoulders surgically repaired. Williams was the defensive MVP in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl and is an undisputed leader on the team. His return is very significant.
Running back Noel Devine has shown how brilliant he can be running the football. Offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen's scheme promises to give Devine opportunities for big gainers. This in spite of the questions surrounding the offensive line.
As camp opens it is the offensive line which has the biggest question marks attached to it. That is because it is young and inexperienced. The development of the O-line is the key to just how far this team can go.
Back to Mullen's offense. Jarrett Brown assumes the quarterback job. Brown has waited patiently behind Pat White for three years to get this chance, and all indications are that Brown is primed to flourish. While it may sound absurd to say this about arguably the most successful quarterback in Mountaineer history, Brown may have more quarterback skills than White. That doesn't mean he can be the clutch player like White, but it is good to know there is talent at the position.
Even with the questions surrounding the line, Mullen figures to be able to keep opponents from loading up the box with Brown's arm. Line coach Dave Johnson's expertise is developing pass blocking linemen, something that should bode well for this team. Allowing this young line to only have to block an equal number on the defensive side will ensure that Devine will get his big gains. He doesn't need much of a hole. Also, Devine will be running out of the I formation more than we have seen him in the past, and that is his preference.
Slot receiver Jock Sanders has returned to the team following a five month suspension for a drunk driving charge. The 5-7 Sanders will be sharing the slot with 6-8 Wes Lyons. Mountaineer fans have been waiting a long time for the multi gifted Lyons to emerge and this could be the year.
At 6-8 Lyons also has the highest vertical leap on the team, so the fact that he has only 21 catches in three seasons is perplexing. We know injuries have slowed him at times and there have been rumors of a poor work ethic contributing to his down time. Current reports indicate Lyons is primed to make the best of his senior campaign and the move to the slot will be key. One of Lyons' problems at wideout was that smaller defensive backs could line up across from Lyons and effectively lock him up. Lining up in the slot allows Lyons enough space to get into his route creating the mismatches that WVU fans have been waiting for.