WVU football: Miramar paying dividends
MORGANTOWN - Preseason camp ended Saturday at West Virginia, and the coaches spent the rest of the weekend discussing depth charts and who might play and who might redshirt in 2012.
The 11th-ranked Mountaineers are not without concerns and question marks, not even at their most notable positions on offense. Nevertheless, coaches felt a little better about things at two of their key spots.
Once again, WVU can thank Miramar High.
The high school in south Florida that has given the Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney has again delivered, this time with freshman running back D'Vontis Arnold and freshman receiver Devonte Mathis.
Mathis thrived the final few days of camp after he moved to an inside receiver spot and seems just about certain to play. Arnold, a preferred walk-on, was particularly good Saturday and is now at least part of conversations that did not include him before.
"He's a kid that deserves to be mentioned," said running backs coach Robert Gillespie.
A week earlier, Gillespie had grouped the 5-foot, 9-inch, 185-pound Arnold among players observers didn't need to work about until spring football.
"You just don't want to talk about a guy that early," Gillespie said Saturday. "He's still trying to find his way around and it's just not a name you want to hear until it's time. But he did a few good things and he's done more good things.
"Now's a chance to say, 'Hey, this is a kid that you guys probably need to look out for.' As a staff, we'll sit down and talk about it and see if he helps us throughout the season."
Whether Arnold plays, redshirts or travels will be determined in the next two weeks, but that decision could be attached to the status of Dustin Garrison.
Senior Shawne Alston ended camp as the starting running back and Gillespie said sophomore Andrew Buie and Garrison, who tore his left ACL in the first practice before the Orange Bowl, are essentially even as the backups.
Gillespie touted Garrison's toughness and honesty throughout the recovery as it happened in camp, but said Garrison, WVU's leading rusher as a freshman in 2011, is not yet a guarantee.
"We'll talk to the medical staff to see what's the best thing for him," Gillespie said.
"Is he strong enough to go out there and protect himself, first of all, and is he also strong enough to go in and help the team?"
Arnold comes with credentials not common to walk-ons. He had a scholarship to play at Bethune-Cookman, but Gillespie convinced him to walk on with the Mountaineers. Gillespie sold Arnold, who tore his left ACL in 2010, on the opportunity. WVU had the three returning backs, but Alston, Buie and Garrison all have injury histories. WVU signed just two backs in the recruiting class and only Torry Clayton made it to campus.
"Good football players slip through the cracks everywhere," Gillespie said. "Guys make mistakes in recruiting and there are only so many guys you can take.
"A lot of guys say, 'Hey, I think I'm better than the smaller offers I have,' and they walk on around the country.
"Here, we just don't have a lot of guys. If I had five or six guys back there, I think it would be harder to work up through the ranks."
Whole Arnold watched for a while before he ever got his chance, Mathis was a possibility from the start and has separated himself from fellow freshmen receivers Devonte Robinson, Travares Copeland and Will Johnson, whose immediate futures will be decided soon.
WVU receivers coach/offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson feels safe starting Bailey and senior J.D. Woods outside and senior Tavon Austin and freshman Jordan Thompson, who enrolled in January, inside.
Redshirt freshman K.J. Myers and senior Ryan Nehlen are reliable as backups on the outside, but the Mountaineers needed extra bodies inside, where they only have redshirt freshman Dante Campbell and walk-on Connor Arlia in reserve.
To help, WVU talked about sliding Mathis inside for about a week before making the move.
"We did it not because he was doing bad outside, because he was doing really good stuff, but you can tell when someone is comfortable," Dawson said. "When we put him inside, it clicked for him. He started making plays right away."
Mathis always had one thing working in his favor and it eventually made the decision to move him much easier.
"He's huge," Dawson said.
Mathis is 6-feet, 2-inches tall and weighs a little more than 220 pounds. He can handle himself against linebackers and safeties and do what WVU asks in the blocking game, but he can also run away from defenders.
"The one thing about him from high school that we liked about him was he played outside receiver, he played inside receiver, he played quarterback and he played some defense," Dawson said. "He played everywhere and no matter where they put him, he made big plays.
"He's a big kid, but he's also an athlete. Right now we feel good about where he's at. Being too big is not a problem if you can run. Being big is a problem if you can run. But hell, he can run. So he's a big athlete and he can run - and he's got great hands."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.