Earlier this week, we named our top candidates to have a breakout season on the defensive side of the ball for the Mountaineers. While we correctly predicted most of our defensive surprises last year, we did not have the same success on the offensive side. So we’ll try to do a bit better this year. Without further ado, we present the top five offensive surprises for the West Virginia Mountaineers in 2019.
Five Offensive Surprises For The Mountaineers
For now, Junior Uzebu appears locked in as the backup left tackle. That means he stands in line behind Colton McKivitz, who was named to the Outland Trophy preseason watch list. As a result, his road to significant playing time might be blocked for much of the season. But he certainly has the skill set to see time here late in games. His penchant for run blocking fits well what Neal Brown will try to establish. As we discussed, Brown would like, at the very least, to flex shades of a power run game.
Uzebu’s name has not been mentioned too often by the staff, but, generally, that’s a good thing. Steady play without making too many mistakes is generally what you want to see from younger offensive linemen. The redshirt freshman could get pushed into action by injuries on the line. And both Offensive Line Coach Matt Moore and Head Coach Neal Brown have made clear that they want seven to eight guys they can trust to step up on the offensive line. We expect Junior Uzebu to answer that call, and we even named his to our offensive wishlist accordingly.
Shortly after Athletic Director Shane Lyons announced the hire of Brown, the Mountaineers announced that Austin Kendall intended to transfer from Oklahoma to Morgantown. As a grad transfer, Kendall has immediately eligibility. The red-shirt junior has two years to play two seasons. Last season, the Oklahoma press reported that Kendall barely lost the battle to replace Baker Mayfield to Kyler Murray. Even if those reports stretched the truth, Kendall was valued enough by Oklahoma Head Coach Lincoln Riley to briefly block the transfer attempt.
Unfortunately, fans seemed generally unimpressed by Kendall’s performance in the Spring Game. And those fans’ sentiments were reinforced by Brown’s decision to add transfer Jarret Doege to the room. Concerns have grown during fall camp, as Brown’s comments about the inconsistent play of his quarterbacks seemed telling. But make no mistake, Kendall will prove to be a gamer this season. He won’t make the transition from Will Grier seamless, but he will definitely prove a capable leader of Brown’s first-year offense.
At 6’3″ and 345 pounds, Michael Brown brings the type of size to the offensive line that Coach Moore knowingly covets. And Brown is actually down several pounds from his weight last season. This has given Brown the extra motor and stamina that Moore sought from him. According to Coach Brown, his offensive lineman “continues to improve.”
According to Josh Sills, “the conditioning and strength that he built over the off-season is night and day from last year.” Kelby Wickline added, “[Brown is] really looking good out there. He gets better every day in cardio and footwork.” That trust will go a long way to building a solid, cohesive offensive line. Expect Brown to punish opposing defensive lines often this season.
We included Alec Sinkfield on our list of offensive surprises last season. But Sinkfield suffered a lingering ankle injury that limited his use last year. Brown seems excited to use Sinkfield as a versatile, pass-catching back. His explosive speed can certainly add a dynamic element to an offense that replaces so much of its passing game production. Fans should not forget that we are only a year removed from ESPN calling Sinkfield their “breakout player” for the Mountaineers in 2018. He might just achieve that billing this season.
The story of a five-star player suffering multiple injuries and seeing limited time on the field as a result should sound familiar. Last season, the Mountaineers welcomed Kenny Bigelow to the defensive line. Bigelow proved a welcome addition and a veteran leader on and off the field. George Campbell comes to West Virginia with a similar back story but perhaps even more of a chip on his shoulder. With T.J. Simmons representing the only returning veteran receiver on the team, the Mountaineers will be looking for production from a variety of sources.
So far, Campbell has definitely looked the part. He shows the poise, concentration, and athleticism one would expect for the top ten recruit that he was.
— West Virginia Football (@WVUfootball) August 12, 2019
Campbell, wearing number 15, shows up at the 0:59 mark on the above video. There, he makes a great catch right in the back of the end zone.
— West Virginia Football (@WVUfootball) August 6, 2019
And, there, he makes a nice leaping catch over the middle at the 0:25 mark. And the most impressive of the bunch shows up at 0:21 in the video below.
— West Virginia Football (@WVUfootball) August 5, 2019
Two players that barely miss our list are both young wide receivers, a position of substantial need for the Mountaineers. The coaching staff has raved about sophomore receiver Sean Ryan since his arrival from Temple. And he shows up twice in the first of the three videos above, at both 0:23 and 0:35. The only reason Ryan doesn’t make our top five outright is the fact that the NCAA has yet to rule on his waiver request for immediate eligibility.
Finally, we can’t help but mention Bryce Wheaton here. Of the redshirt freshmen receivers, Sam James has already received notoriety, and he will likely outperform Wheaton over the course of the season. That said, Wheaton looks to have matured substantially in the off-season, and he should contribute meaningfully to the offense this year. Brown called him the “most improved player” from the Spring, simply adding, “he went to work.” That work should pay off as the season progresses.
Five Offensive Surprises
It’s no secret that the Mountaineer must replace a majority of its offensive production from last season. Doing that with a coaching staff change is daunting. But if our five offensive surprises perform as we anticipate, they can definitely help the Mountaineers climb in 2019.