West Virginia is jostling to get enough capable targets for quarterback Will Grier to throw to with the season opener less than two weeks away.
With the top two wide receivers gone from last year’s team and other problems cropping up, the Mountaineers are looking to Ka’Raun White to take over perhaps the same way his brother, current Chicago Bears receiver Kevin White, did in a big way in his senior season with West Virginia in 2014.
No. 22 West Virginia is lacking depth entering the Sept. 3 opener against No. 21 Virginia Tech in Landover, Maryland.
Jovon Durante, who had 17 career starts and was fourth on the team with receptions (35) and yards (331) last year, announced a week ago he is transferring to Florida Atlantic.
Marcus Simms, who played in nine games as a freshman and was projected to be a starter this season, was arrested earlier this month on charges of drunken driving and driving on a license that was revoked because of an earlier DUI arrest. Coach Dana Holgorsen suspended Simms for the opener.
That leaves White and Gary Jennings as the only returning wide receivers who had catches a year ago. They represent 22 percent of the team’s receiving yards.
White was second on the team last season with 48 catches and five touchdowns. He missed the final two games with a broken bone in his right leg. Jennings and fellow junior David Sills have one combined start with the Mountaineers.
Holgorsen said White, Jennings and Sills “do everything right, and I’m excited about what years that they’re going to have.”
White and his younger brother, Kyzir, a safety for the Mountaineers, followed older brother Kevin from Pennsylvania’s Lackawanna Junior College to Morgantown. Kevin White was a second-team all-American in 2014.
The Mountaineers got touchdowns just 58 percent of the time when advancing to the 20-yard line last season, and the receivers will be counted on under new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital to help improve West Virginia’s ability to score.
Kevin White, who had 1,447 receiving yards and 10 TD catches as a senior, was capable of doing that. Ka’Raun White, a senior, smiles at the comparisons to his brother and said he’s focusing on goal-line work with Grier, who sat out last season after transferring from Florida.
“The coaches are saying ‘you guys have got to work on that communication, that connection,'” White said. “Because without that, we’re not going to be successful this season.”
Jennings had 165 receiving yards and two TDs in 2016. Sills had seven catches for the Mountaineers in 2015, making the winning TD grab in the Cactus Bowl against Arizona State. Sills returned to West Virginia after playing quarterback at a California junior college last season.
As for identifying capable backups at wide receiver, Holgorsen remains pessimistic and he’ll go to the backfield for some help. He said sophomore running back Kennedy McCoy is “one of our top four guys” at receiver.
Other receivers who could see significant playing time include 6-foot-5 junior college transfer Dominique Maiden, sophomore Ricky Rogers and redshirt freshman Druw Bowen.
“We’ve got bodies,” Holgorsen said. “We’re a little low on scholarships right there, I realize that. But we’ve still got guys on scholarship that need to earn it, get out there, play hard and practice hard and improve.”