WVU Offensive Position Battles to Watch in 2020
After an up and down season across the board in 2019, year two for West Virginia under Neal Brown looks to be a bit more stable on both sides of the ball. However, there are still position battles to be fought, and with spring practice eliminated, those will have to be contested when fall camp commences.
On the offensive front, the Mountaineers will have to replace both offensive tackles while someone will have to step up as a clear number two receiver behind Sam James. If and when the team gets back to work, these are the most important battles that will have to be decided before the season opens.
Left Tackle: Junior Uzebu (R-So.) vs. Brandon Yates (R-Fr.)
Colton McKivitz leaves behind huge shoes, both literally and figuratively, for one of these young linemen to fill. After years of steadiness from McKivitz and Yodny Cajuste on the blind side, this is the first bit of uncertainty the position will see since Cajuste broke into the lineup as a freshman.
Uzebu was technically the backup to McKivitz in 2019 but the new San Francisco 49er rarely came off the field, limiting his redshirt freshman season to just 2 games. At 6’6” and 298 pounds, the massive Uzebu was a big recruiting get for the Mountaineers, as he chose WVU over the likes of Pitt, Minnesota, and North Carolina State.
An athletic prospect who certainly looked the part out of high school, it’s taken a bit of time for his skills to catch up to his raw ability. While largely unknown at the college level, Uzebu has the combination of size and power to make an impact if he wins the job.
Maybe an even bigger unknown than Uzebu, Brandon Yates has earned rave reviews from the coaching staff since he arrived on campus last fall. That arrival came later than those coaches would have liked with some going as far as to say that he could have contributed a year ago with more time in the program.
Yates flew under the radar out of Liberty Baptist High School in Las Vegas for much of the recruiting process before the Mountaineers gained his commitment, which was followed up shortly by a late offer from USC. Considered particularly raw out of high school, it appears that he made a jump much larger than any expected in that first season.
At 6’4”, 306 pounds he has one of the only frames on the roster that can rival Uzebu and has been one of the most talked-about young players on the roster through the offseason. No matter who comes out of this battle with the starting role, West Virginia will have a young and athletic left tackle to anchor the offensive line for years to come.
Right Tackle: John Hughes (R-Jr.) vs. Parker Moorer (R-Fr.)
On the other side of the line, graduated starter Kelby Wickline will need to be replaced at right tackle with the two strongest candidates being a slightly more experienced former junior college transfer and another redshirt freshman.
Headed into his second season at WVU, John Hughes is the most experienced of the four tackles discussed here but most of his snaps came at right guard last season. A late pickup from Navarro College, Hughes appeared in 11 games with one start against North Carolina State while serving largely as depth at both spots on the right side of the line.
With the frame at 6’5” to play the tackle position, that was his expected role upon his commitment but struggles on the interior of the line led to his move inside last season. Now with Mike Brown and James Gmiter entrenched at the guard spots, Hughes can slide back out to the spot he was brought in to fill.
Hughes thrived in a heavy passing offense in junior college with his pass protection helping pave the way for the top air attack in the nation in 2018. His experience, paired with that skill set make him an intriguing candidate to start in 2020.
Going up against Hughes for that spot is Parker Moorer, a well-regarded prospect coming off of a redshirt season in his first year on campus. West Virginia landed former Maryland commit in September 2018 and the athletic lineman’s skills have developed considerably since then.
The Charlotte native has added weight since getting to campus but appears to have kept a level of athleticism that will give him the chance to play very early in his career. While almost entirely unknown to the larger fanbase, Moorer obviously has made a mark in his time at WVU with Matt Moore singling him out as a potential starter for the upcoming season.
X Wide Receiver: Sean Ryan (Jr.) vs. Bryce Wheaton (R-So.) vs. Ali Jennings (So.)
Despite the breakout redshirt freshman season that Sam James put on a year ago, West Virginia never really saw a true number two outside receiver develop at the X position. With TJ Simmons working largely out of the slot, someone else will have to stand out to fill the starting lineup.
A trio of young receivers brings skills and experience to play out wide during the 2020 season.
Sean Ryan brought strong hands and physical route running after getting cleared to play following his transfer in from Temple. Unfortunately, he was just starting to hit his stride when a broken collarbone sidelined him for the season against Texas.
With six starts in eight appearances, he totaled 19 catches for 219 yards as a true sophomore. Showing more and more potential as time went on, Ryan is the most experienced receiver competing for this spot and brings a big body with considerable strength to the table.
A similar athlete to Ryan, Bryce Wheaton made major strides late in the 2019 season, culminating in a 50-yard touchdown catch to beat Kansas State. With a large frame and prodigious athletic gifts, the grandson of WVU Athletic Hall of Famer Garrett Ford has been seen as a high-potential prospect since he joined the program two years ago.
Finishing with 12 catches for 201 yards in 11 games, the flashes he showed both down the field and over the middle make for an exciting combination of skills heading into his sophomore season.
Finally, the youngest member of this competition is Ali Jennings, a rising sophomore who impressed in limited action as a true freshman last season. Tallying three starts in his first year on campus, strong hands and crisp route running allowed Jennings to make an impression on the coaches and fan base.
Ending the year with 19 catches for 192 yards, his impact showed in some big moments and he played high above the expected level for a true freshman.
These three competitions will help define what West Virginia’s offense looks like during the 2020 season. With important places on the offensive line and in the wide receiver corp open, these roles may come to define the Mountaineer attack in the new season.
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