Big 12: K.J. Myers

Big 12's biggest shoes to fill

August, 19, 2013
Jeremy Smith isn’t the lone non-quarterback in the conference with big shoes to fill. As the Oklahoma State running back aims to replace Joseph Randle, here are some other Big 12 players looking to make a mark on the conference like their predecessors.

Receiver Robbie Rhodes, Baylor: As the Bears aim to replace Terrance Williams, coach Art Briles has been raving about Rhodes during preseason camp. The No. 35 player in the ESPN300 for the Class of 2013, Rhodes appears poised to become a featured receiver in BU’s offense after recording five receptions for 160 yards and one touchdown combined in the Bears’ first two scrimmages.

[+] EnlargeQuandre Diggs
John Albright/Icon SMIExpectations are high for Texas nickelback Quandre Diggs, who will take over the role previously filled by NFL rookie Kenny Vaccaro.
“As he gets more involved, the threat becomes more dangerous for our offense, no question,“ Briles said.

Linebacker Jared Brackens, Iowa State: A former defensive back, Brackens has moved down to play outside linebacker and will be counted on to help fill the void left by A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. A tad undersized, he’ll bring speed into the lineup, which will help handle the wide open spread offenses in the Big 12, but will have to adjust quickly to secure his spot in the defense.

Safety Isaiah Johnson, Kansas: Johnson chose KU out of Iowa Western junior college because the Jayhawks needed immediate help at safety. Now he’s set himself up to be a starter at free safety for KU, and the Jayhawks will need him to match the playmaking production of Bradley McDougald.

Linebacker Blake Slaughter, Kansas State: In a rare and unselfish move, Slaughter redshirted last season instead of finishing his Wildcat career as a backup to Arthur Brown. Now he enters his senior season set to replace him. He started four games as a sophomore in 2010, recording 47 tackles. It's unlikely Slaughter will be the defensive terror in the mold of Brown, but his maturity and experience will be key assets for KSU's defense.

Tackle Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma: Thompson is the odds-on favorite to replace Johnson as the Sooners’ left tackle. Junior college transfer Josiah St. John was signed in February to ramp the competition at the position but didn’t arrive until right before preseason camp began, and Thompson appears to have a solid hold on the starting spot. Thompson is supremely talented so don't be surprised if there is not a major drop off at left tackle for the Sooners despite losing Lane Johnson, the No. 4 pick of the 2013 NFL draft.

Nickelback Quandre Diggs, Texas: Diggs has been anointed as the Longhorns’ new nickelback to replace Kenny Vaccaro, the New Orleans Saints' first-round pick. Fellow NFLers Earl Thomas and Aaron Williams have also manned the position, which has become a highlight spot in UT’s defense. Diggs has been a key part of UT's defense since his freshman year and the nickelback spot could be a terrific fit for the junior.

Receiver LaDarius Brown, TCU: The Horned Frogs have a bevy of talented receivers to replace Josh Boyce, but Brown could have the highest upside of any of them. He started seven games as a redshirt freshman and brings terrific size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and athleticism to the table. No Boyce could mean more opportunities for Brown to emerge in the Horned Frogs' offense.

Safety Tre' Porter, Texas Tech: Porter has played various different positions during his Red Raider career and could be the answer at free safety to replace ultra-productive former safety Cody Davis. He enters the season with 130 career tackles and has been a consistent performer since he stepped on campus in 2010. Porter's background at several different positions in the secondary make him the ideal guy to be the face of the Red Raiders' defensive backfield.

Receivers Kevin White and KJ Myers, West Virginia: The Mountaineers won’t be able to replace Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin with just two receivers. But White and Myers are candidates to get plenty of opportunities in Dana Holgorsen’s offense. White, a junior college transfer, brings terrific size at 6-foot-3, 211 pounds and Myers, a redshirt sophomore, has stepped up during camp.

“He’s one of the guys that I’ve got a big plus by,” Holgorsen said of Myers' preseason performance.
Next up in our fall camp previews, the Big 12 sophomores from out east.

Schedule: West Virginia's players reported to camp on Wednesday, and practice begins today in advance of the Mountaineers' season opener at home against William and Mary.

Setting the scene: Dana Holgorsen likes to say this season is a polar opposite of last year, and he's right. There's no preseason hype swirling around the Mountaineers, who began last season just outside the top 10 and rose to the top five with a 5-0 start before suffering a five-game losing streak. All of WVU's experience is on the defensive end, while there are lots of questions about who'll be doing what and how often at the offensive skill positions. Even with that defensive experience, new playcaller Keith Patterson has his work cut out for him after the Mountaineers finished dead last in the Big 12 in scoring defense a year ago, giving up over 38 points a game.

All eyes on: Has to be the quarterbacks here. Paul Millard and Ford Childress battled to a stalemate in the spring, though there are indications that the elder Millard has an edge on the younger, more promising Childress. Then Florida State transfer Clint Trickett, a Morgantown, W. Va., native, crashed the scene and spiced up the race in fall camp. WVU coaches didn't guarantee him anything, but his willingness to come after a spring visit and the coaches' willingness to have him definitely indicates he'll have a shot to win the job. Holgorsen wants to name a starter sooner than later, but sorting this spot out won't be easy.

Key battle: The running backs will be set, but WVU has another logjam at receiver trying to replace Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. Developing a rapport with the quarterbacks this fall will be a huge task, but K.J. Myers, Connor Arlia and Kevin White emerged from the spring with starting spots. Jordan Thompson figures to be a factor, and if incoming recruit Mario Alford gets eligible, he may get a chance to contribute as well. Dante Campbell injured his shoulder during the spring, but he might crash the party, too. It's anyone's guess as to who leads this team in receiving next season, but fall camp may go a long way in deciding who logs a 1,000-yard season in an offense with lots of catches up for grabs.

On the mend: Dustin Garrison. Garrison returned last season from a knee injury suffered in Orange Bowl practices at the end of the 2011 season, but he wasn't the back who won the Mountaineers' starting job as a freshman midway through the season. Now, he's got a tough battle in fall camp to win carries. Charles Sims is an experienced, top-level player who transferred in from Houston, but last year's leading rusher, Andrew Buie, is still around and juco transfer Dreamius Smith will be gunning for playing time, too.

Outlook: West Virginia was picked second in the Big 12 a year ago, but after a disappointing 7-6 debut and the NFL sapping its three best players, the Mountaineers were picked eighth in the Big 12 this time around. There's plenty of room for upward mobility in a league devoid of elite teams but littered with quality squads, though.

Breaking out: WVU's defense was a disaster a year ago, but if we see improvement this time around, you can probably credit it to a pair of maturing defensive sophomore stars. Isaiah Bruce and Karl Joseph were major bright spots a year ago, but their efforts went mostly unnoticed in the weekly parade of points given up from the Mountaineers. Cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts is out and Joe DeForest was stripped of playcalling duties, but WVU has the athleticism and talent to field a serviceable defense. The big question is how the Mountaineers adjust to another year of offenses they're simply not used to competing against on a weekly basis.

Quotable: Dana Holgorsen, on replacing Geno Smith. "You're going to lose good players in college football. It happens every single year. Geno is going to be a great pro. We don't try to compare him to anybody on our staff or any of that, but we're in the same situation as, I think, seven or eight other Big 12 schools right now."
2012 record: 7-6
2012 Big 12 record: 4-5
Returning starters: Offense: 3; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners: S Karl Joseph, LB Isaiah Bruce, OL Quinton Spain, RB Andrew Buie, RB Dustin Garrison, DL Will Clarke, S Darwin Cook

Key losses: WR Tavon Austin, QB Geno Smith, WR Stedman Bailey, C Joe Madsen, LB Terence Garvin, LB Josh Francis, OG Jeff Braun

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Passing: Geno Smith (4,198 yards)
Rushing: Andrew Buie* (850 yards)
Receiving: Stedman Bailey (1,627 yards)
Tackles: Karl Joseph* (102)
Sacks: Terence Garvin (6)
Interceptions: Karl Joseph*, Isaiah Bruce* (2)

Spring answers:

1. Passing weapons found. The Mountaineers sorted out their receivers and found some solid replacements for Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey to help ease the transition to a new quarterback. K.J. Myers and Connor Arlia had solid springs, along with newcomer Kevin White, a junior college transfer. Jordan Thompson closed with a big spring game, but he has to prove he can do it in a real game.

2. Corners hit the reset button. Cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts is gone, replaced by Brian Mitchell. Pat Miller graduated, but the corners are strating from scratch this spring. Brodrick Jenkins reclaimed his starting spot, and a pair of young players in Nana Kyeremeh and Brandon Napolean should be in the rotation on the opposite side, too. This was the biggest problem area for the defense last season, which looked completely overmatched against Big 12 offenses.

3. Strength in (backfield) numbers. Dana Holgorsen has a reputation as a guy who wants to throw it all around the yard, but that's not necessarily true. This year, he may prove it. WVU will throw it plenty, but running back may be this team's biggest strength. Dustin Garrison is finally healthy and 2012 leading rusher Andrew Buie returns. Juco transfer Dreamius Smith provides even more help at the position. WVU couldn't run the ball consistently last season, but look for them to do it often in the fall.

Fall questions

1. Who's the quarterback? The spring closed with a quarterback competition coach Dana Holgorsen described as "wide open." Texas natives Paul Millard and Ford Childress are neck and neck, and that competition will extend into the fall. Millard has more experience. Childress has more arm strength. This one will be unpredictable going into fall. Anything could happen.

2. Is the defense adjusting? All the leadership and experience this season is on the defensive side of the ball, a stark change from last year's team, where the components of the passing game were better than just about anyone in the Big 12. The new league's offenses got the best of WVU's defense last season, but can they prove they learned from those bumps in the road? No guarantees on that one.

3. Sorting out the offensive line. Joe Madsen leaves a big hole at center for the Mountaineers, and just two starters return from last year's unit. Ron Crook came from Stanford to replace departed OL coach Bill Bedenbaugh and the battle to replace Madsen at center is one of the most interesting. Senior Pat Eger closed the spring as the starter, beating out redshirt freshman Tyler Orlosky, but juco transfer Stone Underwood will muddy up that race come fall.
Four Big 12 teams will kick off their spring games this weekend. We'll be offering up a preview of each throughout the day.

West Virginia

When: Saturday, 2 p.m.

What you need to know:
  • Tickets are $10 each.
  • Defense will wear blue, offense will wear gold.
What to watch:
  • The quarterback battle. There's not going to be much settled in this race on Saturday. It's still too close to call, and I'm betting even a dominant performance by Ford Childress or Paul Millard won't be enough for Dana Holgorsen to designate one a starter. Still, this will be one of the first times they take meaningful (in the most relative sense of the word) snaps with a real crowd in the stands at Milan Puskar Stadium. I expect both to put up really good numbers, but just how they do it should be fun to watch.
  • No defensive busts. That was the name of the game for West Virginia's defense last season. Keith Patterson is in charge of playcalling now, and can his maturing defense keep from losing guys over the top? Will it take notice when a running back leaks out of the backfield? Can it make tackles in the open field? All of that was problematic for the Mountaineers last season, but we might be able to see some flashes of progress this time around.
  • Where are the playmakers? Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey have gone on to fry bigger fish (and cornerbacks) in the NFL, and a slew of transfers means WVU is looking for a lot of new faces in the passing game. Sophomore KJ Myers broke through to earn a starting spot for now at one receiver position, joined by juco transfer Kevin White and inside receiver Connor Arlia. Jordan Thompson has been passed up on the depth chart by Arlia after a big spring and quiet fall, but there will be a lot of passes to go around. We might get a clearer picture of how this will shake out after Saturday.