Big 12: Kyle Rose

The last two weeks, we’ve been examining the strongest and weakest positions for each team in the Big 12 heading into the fall.

On Friday, we continue the series with West Virginia.

[+] EnlargeDreamius Smith
Dan Friend/USA TODAY SportsDreamius Smith is just one of many accomplished WVU RBs fighting for carries.
Strongest position: Running back

The Mountaineers running back corps is quite possibly the best position group in the entire conference. WVU features five different running backs who could win the starting job and/or handle the load as the main ball carrier this fall, including two running backs who have led the Mountaineers in rushing during their careers yet aren't considered favorites to start.

Sophomore Wendell Smallwood was the star of the spring, and his versatility ensures he will be a key part of the Mountaineers offense in 2014. He has the ability to play a similar role to Charles Sims with his running and receiving skills.

Senior Dreamius Smith returns after rushing for 494 yards and five touchdowns as a junior. Rushel Shell, a transfer from Pittsburgh, has terrific upside and size (6-foot-1, 210 pounds). Andrew Buie had 851 rushing yards in 2012, a team high, and returns after missing the 2013 season. Dustin Garrison, who led the squad with 742 rushing yards in 2011, also returns after a injury-riddled 2013 season.

And freshman Donte Thomas-Williams, the No. 138 player in the 2014 ESPN 300, joins the mix in the summer.

The competition for carries should be intense but WVU’s offense will be the beneficiary, as there will be minimal dropoff when the Mountaineers look to the the sideline for fresh legs in the backfield.

Weakest position: Defensive line

The Mountaineers need several players to step up along the defensive front.

Kyle Rose is the most productive returnee and is slated to move inside to defensive tackle after starting six games at defensive end as a sophomore. He had 49 tackles, including 8.5 tackles for loss, last season.

Dontrill Hyman and Christian Brown finished the spring alongside Rose atop the depth chart but have combined to start only two games during their WVU careers. The Mountaineers should get a boost from former Gardner-Webb standout defensive end Shaquille Riddick, who decided to finish his career in Morgantown, W. Va., earlier this week.

The Mountaineers have some potential contributors along the defensive line but very little experience or proven playmakers. If WVU hopes to return to a bowl game, its defensive line unit will have to go from unproven to disruptive this fall.
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. West Virginia released its depth chart after the spring but not every question was answered during the 15 practices as the Mountaineers have several position battles, including quarterback, that will last into August.

OFFENSE (starters in bold)

QB: Clint Trickett (Sr.), Logan Moore (Sr.) or Paul Millard (Sr.) or Skyler Howard (Jr.)

Trickett missed the spring with an injury yet emerged atop the depth chart. It’s fair to say the Mountaineers still have issues at quarterback. Coach Dana Holgorsen is confident his team will see someone step up. Regardless, the competition should last into August and incoming freshman William Crest will enter the mix this summer.

[+] EnlargeDreamius Smith
Dan Friend/USA TODAY SportsDreamius Smith leads a deep group of running backs.
RB: Dreamius Smith (Sr.), Wendell Smallwood (So.), Rushel Shell (So.), Dustin Garrison (Jr.), Andrew Buie (Jr.)
FB/TE: Cody Clay (Jr.), Elijah Wellman (RFr.)

Arguably the deepest position group in the entire Big 12. The Mountaineers go five deep with running backs who could be featured backs on several teams in the league and they will add four-star signee Donte Thomas-Williams into the competition this summer. Expect WVU to use its running backs together at times this fall. At fullback, Clay is underrated and could be a valuable weapon.

WR (X): Mario Alford (Sr.), Devonte Mathis (So.), Shelton Gibson (RFr.)
IR (H): Daikiel Shorts (So.), Jacky Marcellus (RFr.)
R (Y): Jordan Thompson (Jr.), Vernon Davis (So.)
WR (Z): Kevin White (Sr.), Kj Myers (Jr.), Ricky Rogers (Fr.)

WVU has athletes and playmakers at receiver, they just need a consistent quarterback to get those guys involved. There’s no Tavon Austin or Stedman Bailey -- proven all-conference performers -- but Shorts has terrific upside and Alford came on at the end of the 2013 campaign. This is a solid group that will make plays if the quarterback situation sorts itself out.

LT: Adam Pankey (So.), Sylvester Townes (Jr.)
LG: Quinton Spain (Sr.), Russell Haughton-James (Jr.)
C: Tyler Orlosky (So.), Tony Matteo (So.)
RG: Mark Glowinski (Sr.), Stone Underwood (Jr.)
RT: Marquis Lucas (Jr.), Michael Calicchio (Sr.)

Spain is a great place to start at guard but the Mountaineers need this unit to improve if they hope to return to a bowl game this fall. Inexperience is a major concern with Pankey, Lucas and Orlosky moving into the starting lineup with seven combined career starts.

DEFENSE

DE: Dontrill Hyman (Sr.), Noble Nwachukwu (So.)
NT: Kyle Rose (Jr.), Darrien Howard (So.)
DE: Christian Brown (So.), Eric Kinsey (Jr.)

Will Clarke and Shaq Rowell are going to be extremely tough to replace. Rose moves inside to fill the void left by Rowell and should be solid in the middle but the new starters alongside him will have play well if the Mountaineers hope to improve on their 33.3 points allowed and 455 yards allowed per game in 2013. Brown returns from a foot injury a year ago and has the potential to be a force as early as this season. This unit has a ways to go if it hopes to find a place among the Big 12’s top defensive line units.

SAM: Isaiah Bruce (Jr.), Edward Muldrow (Jr.)
MIKE: Nick Kwiatkoski (Jr.), Al-Rasheed Benton (RFr.)
WILL: Brandon Golson (Sr.), Sean Walters (So.)

Bruce has made the move from the SPUR position to the SAM linebacker spot but should continue to be a key playmaker in WVU’s defense. Add Kwiakoski and Golson and the Mountaineers have one of the better linebacker groups in the Big 12.

RCB: Daryl Worley (So.), Keishawn Richardson (Jr.), Nana Kyeremeh (So.)
LCB: Ishmael Banks (Sr.), Terrell Chestnut (Jr.), Brandon Napoleon (So.)
FS: Jeremy Tyler (So.), Ricky Rumph (Jr.)
BS: Karl Joseph (Jr.), Jarrod Harper (So.)
SPUR: K.J. Dillon (Jr.), Malik Greaves (RFr.)

Don’t be surprised if Worley inserts his name among the Big 12’s top cornerbacks this fall, he’s that good. Tyler slides into the spot vacated by Darwin Cook and looks like a future playmaker in the secondary while Joseph and Banks have combined to start 39 games during their careers. It’s a good combination of youth and experience. WVU doesn’t have one of the Big 12’s top secondary units but it has the talent to rise to that level in 2014.
With spring ball done, we’re re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Monday with defensive line. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsWith a healthy and productive Devonte Fields this fall, TCU's defensive line could be an elite unit.
1. TCU (pre-spring ranking: 2): Devonte Fields appears to be back, which is a scary proposition for the rest of the Big 12. The 2012 Big 12 AP Defensive Player of the Year basically had a fruitless sophomore campaign, which ended with season-ending foot surgery. But this spring, defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas noted that Fields was making the plays he did as a freshman All-American. Even without Fields, this would be a good D-line, headlined by veteran tackles Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson. But with Fields playing up to his potential, this line could be elite.

2. Oklahoma (1): Not only did the Sooners return the entire line that destroyed Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, they’ve added three redshirt freshmen who are clamoring for playing time. Charles Walker is the most athletic tackle on the roster, and he ran the fastest tackle 40 time (4.67 seconds) of the Bob Stoops era. Tackle Matt Romar quietly emerged this spring and could be on the verge of taking away snaps from some of the veterans inside. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo showed this spring he's yet another Sooner capable of getting to the quarterback off the edge. There's a debate on the best D-line in the league. There’s no debate on the deepest, with Oklahoma capable of going three-deep across the board.

3. Baylor (6): Coach Art Briles believes he has one of the best defensive lines in the country, and there's reason to believe he might be right. The Bears made the biggest jump on this list, thanks to the development of end Shawn Oakman and emergence of tackle Javonte Magee. Briles called the 6-foot-9 Oakman “unblockable” during the spring. Oakman already flashed plenty of potential last season as a sophomore, finishing sixth in the league with 12.5 tackles for loss. Magee, who might be the most highly-touted high school defender Briles has ever signed, sat out his freshman season while dealing with a personal issue. But he established himself this spring and could beat out returning starter Beau Blackshear. With former four-star signee Andrew Billings (who played as a true freshman) also poised for a big year at the other tackle spot, Briles could indeed be proven correct in the fall.

4. Texas (3): The Longhorns boast two of the league’s blue-chip defensive linemen in end Cedric Reed and tackle Malcom Brown. But whether this unit rises to the top of the league will hinge on the supporting cast. If athletic end Shiro Davis and run-stuffing tackle Desmond Jackson play up to their potential, and the Longhorns can get a boost from incoming freshmen Derick Roberson and Poona Ford, this could be a foundational positional unit in Charlie Strong’s first season.

5. Kansas State (4): Like Texas, the Wildcats have two blue-chip pieces returning up front in All-Big 12 end Ryan Mueller and tackle Travis Britz. They’re banking they’ll soon be adding a third in Terrell Clinkscales, who will be arriving to Manhattan shortly. Clinkscales, whom the Wildcats snatched away from Nebraska, was the nation’s No. 4-rated juco DT, and at 315 pounds, could be the run-stuffer K-State currently lacks.

6. Oklahoma State (5): With so much turnover elsewhere, the Cowboys will be counting on their line to be their anchor defensively. There’s reason to believe it could be that and more. Sam Wren received votes for Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year last season, while Emmanuel Ogbah garnered consideration for Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Throw in promising redshirt freshmen Vili Leveni, Ben Hughes and Vincent Taylor, who all showed signs this spring they might be ready to contribute, along with veterans James Castleman, Ofa Hautau and Jimmy Bean, and Oklahoma State could have the anchor up front it needs while the rest of the defense retools.

7. West Virginia (7): This will probably be the weakest area of West Virginia defense, but with their talent at linebacker, the Mountaineers don’t have to be great up front. Dontrill Hyman, Christian Brown and Kyle Rose are currently the starters coming out of the spring. But the player to watch up front is sophomore Darrien Howard, who rapidly progressed since having his redshirt pulled late in 2013. If Howard develops into an impact player, he could give the Mountaineers a huge jolt up front.

8. Texas Tech (9): The Red Raiders tried to get by this spring while awaiting the horde of defensive line help set to arrive this summer. All told, the Red Raiders signed four juco D-linemen, only one of which – Keland McElrath -- enrolled early (McElrath was hobbled by a stress fracture all spring to boot). To be better up front, Tech, which ranked ninth in run defense last fall, will need at least a couple of its juco transfers to hit.

9. Kansas (10): Keon Stowers quietly has become as one of the better tackles in the league. He was the defensive MVP of Kansas' spring game after collecting eight tackles from his defensive tackle spot, and he was voted captain for a second straight year. Stowers and linebacker Ben Heeney will lead a defense that returns nine starters and could surprise after gaining confidence from playing Oklahoma and Texas tough last season.

10: Iowa State (8): The Cyclones took it on the chin this spring, with projected D-line starters Rodney Coe and David Irving both getting kicked off the team. Iowa State got a boost shortly after spring ball ended when 2013 starting tackle Brandon Jensen changed his mind about leaving the team. The Cyclones should be solid at end with Cory Morrissey and Mitchell Meyers, but even with Jensen’s return, interior line depth is a major concern.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: DL

February, 24, 2014
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As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12, continuing Monday with defensive line. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the defensive lines at the moment:

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesOklahoma end Charles Tapper will lead the Big 12's best defensive line in 2014.
1. Oklahoma: D-line began as a weakness but quickly turned into a strength under first-year position coach Jerry Montgomery. End Charles Tapper was an All-Big 12 selection as a sophomore, and tackle Jordan Phillips was on his way to earning similar honors before a back injury ended his season prematurely. Both players are back. So is Geneo Grissom, who had three sacks in the bowl win over Alabama. Nose guard Jordan Wade earned a starting role late in 2013, and Chuka Ndulue will be a starter for a third season. Basically, the entire rotation returns. If Phillips rebounds from the injury, this could prove to be Oklahoma’s finest D-line since 2009, when NFL All-Pro Gerald McCoy roamed the middle.

2. TCU: DE Devonte Fields, the Associated Press’ Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman in 2012, had an empty season in 2013 thanks to a suspension, then a season-ending foot injury. If Fields can return to the player he was, TCU will be formidable up front. Chucky Hunter was a second-team All-Big 12 pick inside last season, and he’ll be flanked by an array of experienced tackles in Davion Pierson and Tevin Lawson, who were all part of the rotation last season. Ends Terrell Lathan, James McFarland and Mike Tuaua, who combined for 11 sacks in 2013, all return as well. Even with DT Jon Lewis giving up football, TCU's D-line figures to be as deep as any in the league.

3. Texas: Cedric Reed, one of the best sack men in the Big 12 last season, returns after giving the NFL a cursory thought. The Longhorns have to replace Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat on the other side, but ESPN 300 recruit Derick Roberson, the No. 8 DE in the Class of 2014, could help right away. The Longhorns should also be stout inside, with run-stuffing tackles Malcom Brown and Desmond Jackson back to clog the middle.

4. Kansas State: Ryan Mueller, who was eighth nationally with 11.5 sacks last season, comes back after a breakout All-Big 12 season. Travis Britz is an all-conference-caliber tackle and gives K-State one of the better one-two punches on the D-line in the league. Joining them will be Terrell Clinkscales, who was the No. 4 junior college DT in the 2014 class. The Wildcats pried Clinkscales away from Nebraska, and at 315 pounds he could be the perfect complement to Britz, who relies more on quickness.

[+] EnlargeShawn Oakman
John Rivera/Icon SMIBaylor defensive end Shawn Oakman will play a bigger role next season.
5. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose two-time All-Big 12 tackle Calvin Barnett. James Castleman, however, will be a three-year starter, and end Jimmy Bean had a career night in the Cotton Bowl with three tackles for loss. The key to the Cowboys fielding one of the better lines in the league again will be whether Ben Hughes, Vincent Taylor and/or Vili Leveni can emerge inside after redshirting in 2013. All three are promising prospects, especially Taylor, who was an ESPN 300 recruit in the 2013 class.

6. Baylor: The Bears feature two of the more intriguing defensive linemen in the league. DE Shawn Oakman, a former Penn State transfer with tremendous length at 6-foot-9, finished sixth in the league with 12.5 tackles for loss last season, but he tailed off in Big 12 play. Baylor will ask him to play a much bigger role along the line, and he has the potential to give the Bears a unique playmaker there. On the inside, Baylor will lean more on Andrew Billings, who was part of the DT rotation as a freshman. If both Billings and Oakman play up to their vast potential, Baylor could be a handful up front.

7. West Virginia: The Mountaineers lose two of three starters along the D-line, including second-team All-Big 12 end Will Clarke. West Virginia is hoping for big things from DE Kyle Rose, who played a lot as a sophomore. Dontrill Hyman will likely fill a starting role on the other side, though he could get pushed for time by Eric Kinsey and Noble Nwachukwu, who both will be in their third year in the program. The Mountaineers will lean on Christian Brown and Darrien Howard at nose guard. Howard was an ESPN 300 recruit last year and played as a freshman. There’s some talent and potential here.

8. Iowa State: Like Texas Tech, Iowa State loaded up on immediate defensive line help, signing three juco defensive ends in Dalyou Pierson, Terry Ayeni and Gabe Luna, who is enrolled already for spring ball. Those three together with All-Big 12 honorable-mention selection Cory Morrissey and sophomore Mitchell Meyers should give Iowa State a solid rotation at end. Rodney Coe, who started the last four games, will anchor the Cyclones inside.

9. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders lose their two best defensive linemen in Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush, and Tech got pushed around up front anyway last season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury recognized this deficiency and signed four juco defensive linemen, all of whom have a chance to play immediately. Of the returning linemen, Branden Jackson was by far the most productive, totaling nine tackles for loss and four sacks as a starter.

10. Kansas: Despite also losing two starters, the Jayhawks have experience up front. Defensive captain Keon Stowers is back after manning the middle in 2013. Ben Goodman returns as well in Kansas’ “buck” role, and he is coming off a very solid sophomore season. Goodman’s backup, Michael Reynolds, and rotation players Tedarian Johnson and Ty McKinney give the Jayhawks depth.

Big 12 unsung heroes: Week 3

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Here are the Big 12's unsung heroes in Week 3.

Receiver Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State: Overshadowed by the Cyclones’ struggles against Iowa, Bundrage could be emerging as a go-to target for quarterback Sam Richardson. He finished with seven receptions for 146 yards and three touchdowns. Four of his catches resulted in first downs for the Cyclones. He could be a reassuring option for Iowa State's offense if he can be consistent for the rest of the season.

Safety Isaiah Johnson, Kansas: The junior college transfer had a strong showing against Rice. He had nine tackles, including seven solo stops, and one interception against the Owls. It was a disappointing 23-14 loss for the Jayhawks, but coach Charlie Weis praised the performance of his defense and hopes that unit will continue to play well when Big 12 play opens. Secondary play is critical in this league, and Johnson could help the Jayhawks in that regard.

Running back John Hubert, Kansas State: It’s odd to call Hubert an unsung hero, but the Wildcats’ use of their star running back should be noted. He’s gotten more opportunities to get the ball in space and has seen the ball more in the passing game since KSU's season-opening loss to North Dakota State. Hubert had 168 all-purpose yards (118 rushing, 50 receiving) and one touchdown in KSU’s 37-7 win over UMass. With KSU facing Texas this weekend, Hubert could be a key guy to watch for the Wildcats.

Cornerback Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma: Sanchez is quietly off to an outstanding start in the first three games of his college career. He had six tackles, including 0.5 tackles for loss, and one pass breakup against Tulsa. The redshirt freshman has been competitive, trustworthy and confident as the starter opposite All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin. Sanchez gone from potential weak link for the Sooners to a potential strength in the secondary.

Running back Jeremy Smith, Oklahoma State: The senior had the quietest three-touchdown performance in recent memory with 10 carries for 40 yards and three scores. Smith makes the list because he will be critical for the Cowboys offense moving forward. If he can continue to be a physical, slashing runner who takes the attention off quarterback J.W. Walsh, the entire field opens up for OSU’s offense on the ground and through the air.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesTexas RB Johnathan Gray rushed for 91 yards and a TD in the Longhorns' loss to Ole Miss.
Running back Johnathan Gray, Texas: Gray had a productive day against Ole Miss despite the Longhorns’ 44-23 loss. He finished with 19 carries for 91 yards and one touchdown while adding four receptions for 12 yards. The Longhorns leaned more on Gray with Daje' Johnson out, and the sophomore responded with a solid showing. Nonetheless, UT will need even more from Gray if it hopes to get the ship turned back in the right direction.

Defensive back Derrick Kindred, TCU: The sophomore, a backup safety, was all over the field in the Horned Frogs’ 20-10 loss to Texas Tech on Thursday. He finished with five tackles, including one tackle for loss, while adding an interception and a pass breakup. Playing in a defensive backfield that features big names like cornerback Jason Verrett and safety Elisha Olabode, Kindred is looking like he can provide quality depth in TCU’s secondary.

Safety Tre' Porter, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders senior was a key reason Texas Tech was able to limit TCU to 10 points. He had a team-high nine tackles, all solo. His ability to tackle in space and limit game-changing plays by opponents could be critical for the Red Raider defense when it starts facing Big 12 offenses. He was moved to safety to provide a consistent playmaker at that position for the Red Raiders, and that's exactly what he's done.

Defensive end Kyle Rose, West Virginia: Rose had six tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss, and one sack for WVU in the Mountaineers' 41-7 win over Georgia State. The sophomore provided quality depth last season and could become a key contributor along the defensive line if he continues to play well. He could also help lessen the burden and double-team opportunities on defensive tackle Shaq Rowell in the middle.

Note: Baylor did not play in Week 3.
Time for a closer look at West Virginia's spring game, where the main attraction was well before kickoff.

What happened:
  • Paul Millard earned the first snaps with the offense and finished with 185 yards and three touchdowns on 16-of-27 passing.
  • Ford Childress completed 14-of-21 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown.
  • Jordan Thompson caught six passes for 123 yards and three touchdowns.
  • Dustin Garrison and Dreamius Smith combined for 89 yards on 14 carries.
  • Defensive lineman Kyle Rose finished with two sacks.
  • Blue (defense) beat Gold (offense), 41-33.
What we learned:
  • There's not much movement in the quarterback race. Saturday's game was a rough start for the offense, which didn't score until midway through the second quarter, but both quarterbacks played pretty well, and coach Dana Holgorsen will have a tough job over the next couple months figuring out the starter. There's something to be said for Millard getting the first reps, but that might just be experience, and the fact that somebody had to do it. "Not only are we not ready to name a starter at quarterback, we’re not ready to do that at about 20 other positions," Holgorsen told reporters. "The team that we field in September is going to look a lot different. We have so many new guys coming in, and we have so many young guys that are going to continue to develop."
  • Don't fire up the Jordan Thompson hype machine yet. Thompson's play was outstanding, but after looking like the next Wes Welker last spring and disappearing in the fall, even Holgorsen couldn't help but have some fun in the middle of frustration about his lack of production. "He had a good game last spring, too. He will go down in the history books as the greatest spring-game player of all-time. Until he plays like that in a game, we’re going to call it like it is," Holgorsen said. "I haven’t seen him play like that in a game yet. Until he does that in a game, we’re not going to talk about it." Fair enough.
  • The receivers are showing some potential. I do see Thompson turning a corner this fall, but you've got to be encouraged by juco transfer Kevin White grabbing five balls for 72 yards and a 46-yard score from Millard. Connor Arlia's four catches for 39 yards was the only other major standout, but I'm intrigued to see if he holds off Thompson to start at inside receiver next fall.
  • WVU's new uniforms are outstanding. The team had a presentation before the game to reveal the new uniforms, which will have blue, white and Old Gold helmets, jerseys and pants, giving the Mountaineers 27 possible combinations. You can see them all here. Really sharp look. I love the all gold unis, and the white jerseys with blue trim look fantastic, too. The numbers, inspired by miners' pick axes, have been a little polarizing, but I'm a fan. What do you think?

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