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Reason For Hope & Concern In 2022 - Part One

West Virginia returns five starters on the offensive line but can JT Daniels stay healthy?

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Georgia at Michigan John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Five Returning Offensive Linemen

I’ve written about it previously, but the Mountaineers return five starters on the offensive line and if you are looking for a reason to have joy in 2022, its the return of the all five offensive line starters: Brandon Yates, James Gmiter, Zach Frazier, Doug Nester, Wyatt Milum. Returning offensive line starters is one of the biggest ways to take a major step forward for teams. The offensive line has slowly taken the time to develop and get stronger while collecting talent.

The left side of the line, anchored by Wyatt Milum, the sixth highest rated player to ever commit to the Mountaineers, and Doug Nester, who was actually rated slightly higher than Milum, as well as Zach Frazier, looks to be a strength of the Mountaineers. All three linemen have shown the ability to dominate their position - Zach Frazier is already receiving pre-season award recognition.

Last year, the Mountaineers had a true freshman in Wyatt Millum and an injured Doug Nester on the line. Nester, who suffered a broken hand, played the first six games with a large cast on his hand and his play was affected by the cast. When the cast was removed, he saw an increase in his play and the running game, which struggled early in the season improved.

If you believe ProFootballFocus and their grading of players, out of the top 11 players on the offensive side of the ball last year, four were offensive linemen. Frazier and Nester graded out as 1 and 3 respectively, Milum came in at 9 and Gmiter came in at 11. That play, which increased as the season went on, helped the run game thrive. In the first six games of the season, the leading in-game rusher only broke 100 yards once, Leddie Brown against Virginia Tech and even then, he broke off an 80-yard run early in the game. In the final six games, excluding the bowl game, Brown broke 100 yards, four times.

With the offensive line returning all five guys, the expectation is improvement and there is no reason to expect differently.

JT Daniels Health

JT Daniels. He of 6’3 and 210 pounds, a 0.9919 rated prospect when he was a high schooler, rated as the #16 prospect in the country, the #2 pro prospect in the country and the 2nd best prospect in the entire state of California, brings a pedigree of being the next great quarterback at West Virginia, but he also brings a dark cloud with him. Can he stay healthy?

Daniels freshman year at USC is the only time he’s played a nearly full football schedule, where he played 11 games (out of 12), missing only one game due to a concussion. That season, Daniels threw for 2672 yards, 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He was sacked 25 times.

In 2019, he won the job over three other players, including Kedon Slovis (who will start for Pitt this year), but tore his ACL when he was sacked by Fresno State in the season opener. Slovis would emerge as a dynamic passer for the Trojans, throwing for 3,502 yards, 30 touchdowns to only 9 interceptions. His emergence in 2019 led to Daniels choosing to transfer from USC to the Georgia Bulldogs. The COVID pandemic would put a damper on Slovis’ 2020 season. His 2021 season, Slovis struggled and finished with only 2,153 yards and 11 touchdowns. He chose to transfer to Pitt this offseason.

In 2020, during the COVID pandemic, Daniels was granted immediate eligibility and competed with Jamie Newman, D’Wan Mathis, Stetson Bennett and Carson Beck for the starting job. Mathis would win the quarterback battle and Daniels would act as the backup. Stetson Bennet would replace Mathis initially but would yield to Daniels when Bennett suffered a shoulder injury against the Florida Gators. Daniels would finish the year as the Bulldogs starter, including leading them to a win in the Peach Bowl. He was named the starter heading into the 2021 season.

Beginning the 2021 season, JT Daniels was the clear frontrunner for starting quarterback, with Stetson Bennett as backup. In the season opener against Clemson, Daniels threw 22-for-30 with 135 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception. Following Georgia’s victory, Daniels was sidelined with an oblique injury, leaving Bennett as the starter for an indefinite period.[18] Daniels returned two weeks later against South Carolina and threw 23-for-31 with 303 yards, and two touchdowns and one interception. Daniels started a week later on September 25 against Vanderbilt and threw 9-for-10 with two touchdowns for 129 yards, but was replaced by Bennett. Daniels did not return until November 6 against Missouri; however, he only appeared briefly in relief of a struggling Bennett, throwing 7-of-11 for 82 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Daniels’ last appearance came against Charleston Southern on November 20 during senior day (the last home game of the season), and threw 7-for-12, gaining 73 yards and a touchdown during his brief stint.

Through four years and potentially 45 games, Daniels has played in 19 games. There is no denying his talent, having thrown for 4800 yards with a 63% completion percentage, but the inability to stay healthy has to worry fans and coaches.