Brown provides update on position battles, preseason depth chart

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Starting left tackle still unknown; team adds depth at linebacker

WVU released a preseason depth chart along with the team’s 2020 media guide last week, but head coach Neal Brown said that two-deep is likely to change before the Sept. 12 home opener against Eastern Kentucky. 

Before the Mountaineers wrapped up camp Tuesday, Brown noted that a key position on the offensive line was still up for grabs. 

“We’ve got a battle for left tackle there with Brandon Yates and Junior [Uzebu],” Brown said during a video conference Saturday. “Just when we think one guy is getting ready to take it, the other will have a good day, and one will fall back a bit.” 

The preseason two-deep lists Uzebu, a 298-pound redshirt sophomore, as the starter. Yates, a 305-pound redshirt freshman, is listed as the backup. 

Whoever wins the starting job will have some massive shoes to fill. In each of the last two seasons, West Virginia’s starting left tackle earned Big 12 offensive lineman of the year honors — Yodny Cajuste in 2018 and Colton McKivitz in 2019. Both linemen are now on NFL rosters. 

Brown noted that the starters at other positions on the offensive line are clear cut. Redshirt sophomore James Gmiter will start at left guard, redshirt senior Chase Behrndt is the starter at center, and redshirt senior Mike Brown and junior John Hughes will anchor the right side of the line and guard and tackle respectively. 

“Gmiter is solidified there at left guard. Chase has had a really nice camp at center and Zach Frazier will back him up at this spot.,” Brown said. “At right guard, Mike Brown has been there, John Hughes at right tackle.”

Redshirt sophomore Briason Mays has also impressed Neal Brown after starting seven games at center in 2019. He’s listed as a backup on the preseason two-deep, but could be plugged in at any position. 

“Briason Mays has really been a bright spot there in camp and has played center, guard and tackle,” Brown said. “He’s a guy we feel that could move around and maybe even break into the line up.”

On the other side of the ball, the Mountaineers have built depth at linebacker, a position group that grew thin last fall. 

Veterans Dylan Tonkery and Josh Chandler-Semedo are listed as starting linebackers on the preseason depth chart, while redshirt junior VanDarius Cowan is listed as the starter at bandit. Incoming graduate transfer Tony Fields isn’t listed on the preseason two-deep, but Brown said his arrival gives the Mountaineers some “flexibility” at the position.

Brown said Tonkery, a West Virginia native, had a productive camp as he enters his redshirt senior campaign. 

“Tonk has had a nice camp. One of our more improved players from last season in this camp, Dylan is,” Brown said. “Then, [redshirt junior] Exree Loe has played well with Josh Chandler at will, so it gives us some depth at those positions and some flexibility, especially when we start going to our nickel and dime package.” 

The Mountaineers turned their attention to Eastern Kentucky Thursday, and the first game week of the fall officially begins Sunday. 

Kickoff between WVU and EKU is set for noon ET Sept. 12. The game will air on FS1.

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