West Virginia Football: 7 Underclassmen the Mountaineers Can Build Around
Dana Holgorsen and the West Virginia football staff made a point to bring in a nice crop of junior college talent to immediately fill holes on the roster. However, there are still plenty of incoming freshmen and returning underclassmen that the Mountaineer coaching staff can build around.
Last year, WVU was led defensively by a pair of freshman defenders—Karl Joseph and Isaiah Bruce. The Mountaineers will also bring back a quarterback with four years of eligibility, who looks to be the future of the offense.
Holgorsen will also have a group of enormous offensive linemen to protect him as well as plenty of talented athletes on the outside, each of whom has the ability catch the ball and run for days.
Let's go a little deeper and check out the group of youngsters that will lead West Virginia in the years to come.
Karl Joseph, Safety
Easily the most pleasant surprise for the West Virginia defense in 2012 was the play of freshman safety Karl Joseph.
He came from virtual obscurity and, in just one season, blossomed into WVU's best defensive player.
He'll not only be the anchor of the Mountaineer defense going forward, but he'll be almost the exact mold from which this defensive staff will look to carve the new incoming defenders.
Joseph was the hardest hitter on the field for WVU and played with more energy than any other member of the defense.
Because of that effort and toughness, I don't see Joseph falling into a sophomore slump next season. If West Virginia is going to improve defensively, it'll be centered around Joseph.
Ford Childress, Quarterback
This season will be the first time in a long time where West Virginia is facing uncertainty at the quarterback position.
Since about 2006—Pat White's sophomore year—the Mountaineers have entered each season knowing who would be leading the team under center.
Now that Geno Smith is gone, WVU will be in the unfamiliar position of searching for a new signal-caller to take the reins.
Luckily, redshirt freshman Ford Childress may have what it takes to secure that starting slot.
Ahead of Childress is junior Paul Millard, who was underwhelming during his time in relief of Smith. Childress may have an advantage over Millard in terms of sheer talent, as the Texan freshman has the big arm that has worked in the Holgorsen offense for years.
Childress is considered by many to be the favorite to win the job at this point, and rightfully so. If he takes command like he is expected to, WVU will be set at quarterback for the next few years.
Isaiah Bruce, Linebacker
Like Joseph, Isaiah Bruce emerged as one of the defensive unit's most consistent performers in his first season on the field.
Bruce was a do-it-all linebacker: rushing the passer, creating turnovers and eating up a ton of tackles in his redshirt freshman season.
Most impressively, Bruce stood out among a number of upperclassmen in that linebacking corps.
So he, like Joseph, will need to avoid the infamous sophomore slump to lead this unit in 2013.
WVU has a huge group of young linebackers coming in, and many could even crack the starting unit in 2012.
No matter how the playing time shakes down in the middle of this defense, Bruce will need to be the constant.
Shelton Gibson, Receiver
The West Virginia recruiting corps will go through a complete overhaul in 2013.
Gone are the Mountaineers' three best receivers—Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and J.D. Woods. Replacing them will be a few incumbents, a few junior college transfers and a small group of incoming freshmen led by Gibson.
The Cleveland native was the headliner of WVU's recruiting class, and he has more than enough physical ability to make his way on the field early for the Mountaineers.
It won't be easy for him to jump to the top of the depth chart right away. But if he catches on to the mental side of the game and his role in the team's offensive scheme, he won't be kept off the field.
When he takes the field may not be so important in the long run, because there's little doubt that Gibson is the future of this recruiting corps.
Throw in fellow incoming freshman Daikiel Shorts and returning young receivers, including Devonte Mathis, Dante Campbell and others, and the West Virginia receiving group looks to be in good hands.
Al-Rasheed Benton, Linebacker
If you haven't taken the time to check out the highlight tapes for WVU linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton, do yourself a favor and do so now.
Many similar high school highlight tapes are edited to have a circle around or an arrow pointing to the subject of the tape, but that just isn't necessary in Benton's film.
Once you watch, you'll know.
Benton is the one ripping through the offensive line and thumping the running back so hard in the hole that it just looks like he ran straight into a wall.
Either that, or he's bolting past blockers and thrashing the quarterback, often jarring the ball loose in the process.
Benton is just the kind of intense and energetic playmaker this defense needs, and he may be wreaking havoc in the backfield at Milan Puskar Stadium for the next four years.
Marquis Lucas, Offensive Line
West Virginia has a great-looking group of young offensive linemen, so we can go ahead and include Brandon Jackson, Russell Haughton-James, Tyler Orlosky, Adam Pankey and the three incoming freshmen on this list as well.
It's tough to tell which one of them will rise to the top until we see more of them on the field.
As it stands, all of the WVU linemen are 6'3" or taller, and—excluding a couple of the newcomers—all weigh 285 pounds or more.
This young group should bring a welcome change to WVU, which has had some struggles on the line in the past few seasons.
Now, with this much size and ability, the Mountaineers will be set.
I like Lucas to possibly take a starting role next season, but in the end, the best part about this group is its depth.
Christian Brown, Defensive Line
Christian Brown was in the rotation on the defensive line last season but looks poised to break through in 2013.
He has a great shot at taking the open starting slot on the defensive front left by Jorge Wright.
Brown and senior Shaq Rowell are the only WVU defensive linemen weighing in at 300 pounds or more.
Once Rowell's gone, it'll be up to Brown to anchor the middle of the Mountaineers defensive line.
Luckily, Brown has the talent, and after another year of development, he should have what it takes to do just that.
Brown averaged just one tackle per game in 2012, but those numbers should see a serious spike next season.