West Virginia had five players taken in the NFL Draft in May — athletes with talent, great work ethic and attitude. And yet head coach Dana Holgorsen smiled as he thought of his 2016 squad when he visited with reporters July 18 at Big 12 Media Days.
The five athletes — Karl Joseph, K.J. Dillon, Daryl Worley, Nick Kwiatkoski and Wendell Smallwood — were seniors who had been in the program almost as long as Holgorsen. The coach said they were purposely recruited as players who would stay for at least four years.
“That’s what that group last year had going for them,” Holgorsen said. “They played so many snaps together that they knew how to play together. I feel like we got the bodies, and we got the players. We just got to get those guys to learn how to play together.”
Developmental athletes include junior linebacker Al Benton and junior safety Dravon Askew-Henry, who are expected to contribute heavily. The Mountaineers are looking for a tackle. Vying for the spot are Yodny Cajuste and Colton McKivitz. Holgorsen said he’s waiting to see which receivers separate themselves much like Kevin White did two years ago.
The big question mark on defense is cornerback, he said, noting the team has plenty of options including junior college transfers Mike Daniels and Elijah Battle and Miami transfer Antonio Crawford.
Making the pocket more comfortable for quarterback Skyler Howard is one task new offensive coordinator Joe Wickline is charged with producing, Holgorsen said. Howard needs to throw fewer interceptions in 2016; he had 14. The quarterback returns for his second year as the starter, so having that experience is invaluable, the coach said.
“Having coach Wickline widen that pocket a little bit, having the timing with him and all these receivers we got, I think it’s going to make a bunch of difference,” Holgorsen said. “If we can maintain the running game where we were at and improve that passing game a little bit, I feel like we’ll be where we need to be.”
West Virginia had 622 rushes for 3,306 yards; Howard completed 221 of 403 passes for 3,145 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Though Holgorsen has a 15-23 record in the Big 12, he believes his program is right where it needs to be, noting the Mountaineers have shown improvement.
“Looking back on last year, we won more games than we have in the previous three years in the Big 12,” he said. “We were two points away from winning 10, so I think we’re pretty competitive. Early on we flat out didn’t have the depth to compete. So I like where our team is at, and I feel like we’re going to be every bit as competitive or more this upcoming season.”
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