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Musket Mailbag Answers: Defensive Line, Transfers and More

Readers asked, so we’ll answer

NCAA Football: Guaranteed Rate Bowl-Minnesota at West Virginia Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Will Sam James be able to catch a pass this year?

Short, snarky answer? Yes, he’ll catch at least one pass this year. James is quite the conundrum, going from almost 70 receptions in 2019 to 31 in 2020 and 42 in 2021. Some of that, especially last year, had to do with the complete ineptitude of the offense and the inability to protect Doege, along with the inability of Doege to recover once he was hit. I expect that James will be better with the new offense and the new quarterback, but that said, in part last year the receivers, James in particular, didn’t fight for balls. 50/50 balls are called those for a reason and good receivers turn those into catches more often than not. James didn’t do that.

Will we make it ONE game w/out an Illegal Procedure Penalty---After at LEAST one Timeout (or after a Kickoff Reception!)? Like Clock Management? New OC Graham Harrell should fix that last one right??

Not only should Harrell fix that, but an improved offensive line and improved quarterback should fix that. In part, it looked like Brown was so focused on trying to be perfect, he forgot to be good. He knew the deficiencies he was working with and he wanted to control every single thing and if something wasn’t right, he wanted to fix it - because he couldn’t trust that anyone would adjust the way he wanted. So yes, I think we avoid the clock management issues we saw last year. .

Could you do a breakdown of how you expect the DL to line up? And, in particular, I’m curious if you are able to discuss whether Dante is gonna be in a position to rush the edge or if the bandit and Alston/Martin will take the lead in those roles. Thanks!

The depth chart indicates that we are still looking to play some version of a 3-3-5/3-4 multiple-front defense. I think the plan, at least previously with Mesidor, was to play more of a 4-man front and put Stills in the Warren Sapp role where he could rush and affect the quarterback. I still think they want to do something like that, though I am not sure if its going to be the defensive line rushing allowing the cornerbacks to make plays - or based on Brown’s comments a few days ago, the cornerbacks playing more man allowing the defensive line a bit more time to rush the QB. If I had to guess, I think they go multiple and when they go three across you’ll see Stills on the outside as an end. At 6’4, 280 he’s nearing the size needed for a 3-4 end. When they go four down, Stills will move to DT, allowing him to rush the passer.

Alston - Stills - Jefferson

Alston - Stills - Jefferson - Martin/Bartlett.

Where I think you’ll run into problems is the depth behind the three starters. Sean Martin is a true sophomore. Simmons is a redshirt sophomore. Thorton is a redshirt sophomore. Lawton is a redshirt freshman. Lockhart and Vesterinen are a redshirt sophomore and true sophomore respectively. Many of these kids didn’t get a lot of conditioning/training during the COVID year and their first year was last year. Coupled with that, we didn’t play a lot of bodies so they have almost no experience.

What is inside info on why so many football and basketball players are transfering.? Do they not like the coaches?

This is a tough question to answer because each transfer is unique and several can be put into groups. Let’s start with football. You have the expected transfers of kids who are buried on the depth chart who are transferring either to G5 or FCS schools to gain more playing time. Parker Moorer, Avarius Sparrow, Kerry Martin fall into this group. Each person has a unique reason why they left but these players likely weren’t going to see a lot of playing time and everyone has a right to try and seek the most they can out of their talents.

Then you have those who think they are better than they are and are transferring trying to step up, but ultimately fall down. Maybe they weren’t interested in battling for their position, maybe they thought they were bigger than West Virginia or maybe they just wanted something more for themselves but players like Nicktroy Fortune, Josh Chandler, fall into this bucket.

You have the host of kids who transferred either because of reason 1 or reason 2 who never found a footing and that appears to be the case with a large portion of transfers. There are a lot of players who had a scholarship here at West Virginia who are currently without a scholarship. Charles Finley, Devel Washington, Darryl Middleton, Eddie Watkins. Had a chance here, left and are now out in the void without.

Then you have the high profile transfers. Again, there are a ton of reasons behind each individual but its hard to deny that there appears to be some version of tampering or ear-whispering going on. Maybe they got wind they could make more money at another school, maybe they were actually promised more money or maybe they were promised a nationally prominent school and the chance to compete for a title. Jackie Matthews, Winston Wright, Daryl Porter, Ahkeem Mesidor come to mind.

As for basketball, this felt like a clean-house moment for Huggins. The team tuned him out, he was super critical of players and a team that had aspirations of Top 25 and making the NCAA tournament ended its season with a whimper. It was embarrassing and Huggins is not a man who is willing to let himself be embarrassed. Whether a kid was told to leave, made to leave or chose to leave, it feels like Huggins basically said I want a new squad and I want it now.

Will WVU pay for better players in the future ?

Will the university pay for better players? No. The NCAA still has the rule that schools can’t “pay” players. Its why WVU and Country Roads Trust are separate entities. Do I think that CRT or some other setup with try to help the school with payments? Sure. Will it be the players you want? Probably not. I don’t see WVU paying Arch Manning, for example, 10M a year just to come play. They don’t have the donors or monetary base to do something that extreme. Will they compensate their players? Sure. You see Toothman Ford giving away vehicles. Players will find a way to get their bag, but I don’t see WVU paying for top 50 recruits.