It's time for WVU's Woods to shine
MORGANTOWN - If this were the fall and the regular season, as opposed to the spring and the experimental season, J.D. Woods probably would be an outside receiver for West Virginia and this foray on the inside would be over.
He would slide back to the spot he played last year and cover up Ivan McCartney's hamstring injury. Ideally, he'd play as well as he did late in 2011, when Woods beat out McCartney for a starting spot.
Yet the senior from Naples, Fla., is an inside receiver and he's not changing. Woods is among WVU's best and that might not be changing, either.
"We said this from day one: We try to get the best four receivers on the field," receivers coach and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "If he's one of the best four receivers in our opinion and he's stuck behind two outside guys we'll give him a chance inside. Looking at our personnel, we felt J.D. had an opportunity to be the next best guy. Now we want to see if he can play it."
The Mountaineers have Tavon Austin inside, but graduated Willie Milhouse, Devon Brown and Tyler Urban.
Seven receivers were part of the recruiting class and four or five will be inside players, but only one is in spring practice.
WVU had a need inside and WVU also had Woods playing behind Stedman Bailey and McCartney outside and about even with Ryan Nehlen as a backup.
"If you want to play around with things, you play around with them in the spring," Dawson said. "We wanted to give him a chance to be one of our top four guys and right now he's excelled."
The 6-foot, 1 inch Woods, who made big plays in the regular-season final at South Florida and started the Orange Bowl against Clemson, caught just seven passes for 67 yards and no touchdowns in 2011. He actually sat out three games.
Yet he got better throughout the season, heard praise for his practices, blocking and routes and earned the chance to create a new role in the spring.
McCartney, who was critiqued for his slow development late last season, has been slowed in the spring. Dawson, who does not want his players learning two positions in Dana Holgorsen's offense, said there was no need to restore Woods outside.
"Nehlen has been so steady in the spring that he's one of our top four right now," Dawson said.
Woods also battling a diverse pair of newcomers, in 6-4, 215 pound redshirt Dante Campbell and the tinier Jordan Thompson. He's the only receiver from the recruiting class who has enrolled and he impressed in the first two weeks.
Thompson is 5-7 and arrived weighing less than 160 pounds, but he's up about 10 pounds since January and was just as quick learning the offense.
Thompson caught 66 passes for 1,117 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior at Katy High School in Texas. He ranked ninth in the Houston area in yards and fifth in touchdowns.
"People look at size and look at stuff like that, but when I first saw Jordan, I told Dana before he ever saw him play, 'I don't know how big he is, I've never seen him in person, but the kid makes plays,'" Dawson said.
"Dana ended up being in Houston and went to see him play and the bottom like was the kid played at an extremely high level. He was one of the leading receivers in Houston. He's doing something right."
Campbell, from Clermont, Fla., had 43 catches for 639 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior at East Ridge High and made the Orlando Sentinel's all-Central Florida first team offense.
"He really, for the past semester, seems like he's really - I don't know what the term is as far as growing up - matured," Dawson said. "He's got a focus about him."
He's not alone. Dawson said Campbell and 6-2, 200-pound K.J. Myers, a redshirt freshman from First Coast High in Jacksonville, Fla., made the most of their surroundings last season and then in the offseason.
"They're always together and they're both competitive and they both want to learn - and they've got a lot to learn," Dawson said. "But it's a great situation for them because they're learning behind two of the best guys and they're going to have to play for us this year. They realize that and they're trying to get better."
Dawson would like to have eight players at his disposal for a game, and wouldn't mind more, but that doesn't leave much room for the incoming freshmen. A few are regarded, including 6-2, 200-pound Devonte Mathis, another product of Florida's Miramar High, and 6-2, 215-pound Deontay McManus. McManus, who played at Austin's Dunbar High in Baltimore, could play inside or outside.
"When we get to a week before fall camp, we'll start to figure things out," Dawson said. "We have an idea where we'll put everyone right now to start out and then we'll fine tune the young guys as they get reps for a couple days. We'll probably move guys around after the first three or four practices because we hope a couple freshmen will come in and help."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.