MORGANTOWN — Take a memo to all those Big 12 scouts who came to West Virginia’s spring game this year and went home writing up reports to their coaching staff that they’d better figure out ways to stop the run because the passing game just wasn’t there.
Like you really didn’t have to be a scout to come up with that. Not only was Will Grier gone at quarterback, but one of the best receiving groups WVU has ever had was gone in Gary Jennings, David Sills V and Marcus Simms.
And what was on hand didn’t seem to be anywhere near the same level – not to the scouts and not to Mountaineer head coach Neal Brown.
Five days into summer camp and that has changed, although Brown has yet to figure out his quarterback situation.
Still, the receivers are not now what they were then.
“If y’all remember, I told you in the spring our receiver room was going to look a lot different in the fall ... and it does,” Brown said. “We made a 180 since spring practice.”
There have been additions, including Florida State graduate transfer George Campbell, who gives WVU another tall, fast target to go with T.J. Simmons, the top returning receiver.
The addition of Campbell and improvement of redshirt wide receiver Bryce Wheaton change the whole outlook of the receiving corps, which will feature burners Sam James and the diminutive big man Tevin Bush, who is no bigger than a stick of TNT but no less dangerous.
“He would be our most improved player from spring camp to right now,” Brown said of Wheaton. “I’ll say this, he had a lot of adversity in the spring. Things didn’t go the way he wanted them to. He got coached harder than he’d been coached before – he got beat a lot. but rather than tucking his head and being sad about it, he went to work. He took ownership of it and he was the Workout Warrior of the week several times. He was one of the highest-graded players coming out of the offseason, according to our strength staff.”
And the wide receiver, whose family roots with WVU go back 55 years [his grandfather was the great WVU running back Garrett Ford Sr.] even though he is from Texas, has carried it over into the summer.
“He’s made catches on contested balls the last three practices. The first practice was a little slow; on 50-50 balls he didn’t make the play. But the last three days he caught those contested balls,” Brown said, about to make a stunning statement. “He’s as talented as anyone we have in our program.”
Wheaton didn’t contribute much last year, just getting his feet wet by playing in two games so he could keep his redshirt. But he didn’t expect to play or even want to. After all, with Sills and Jennings as targets for Grier, he couldn’t have played unless the Mountaineers used two footballs.
“It was a learning experience. I knew when I committed here I had like David Sills and Gary Jennings and everybody in front of me. I really just wanted to learn from them,” he said.
“I don’t think I was ready to play last year anyway, physically.”
Or mentally, for that matter. That was where Sills and Jennings came in.
“The biggest thing was mentally. I don’t think I was where I needed to be mentally last year, even though I thought I was,” he said. “David told me, the way I approach things, I have to think every day in practice I’m trying to get better. It’s not I’m just trying to get through practice. I have to try to be the best every day.”
Wheaton’s mental approach matured under those players’ tutelage while he spent the summer changing his body.
“You don’t really understand what they mean as a freshman when they tell you that you have to change your body,” Wheaton said. “Last year I wasn’t physically ready to play. I had to develop myself first.
“My body, my form has really changed from when I was a freshman. I was like 6-foot-4 and 210 (pounds). Now I’m 217 with 4 percent body fat.”
He can now muscle smaller corners.
Meanwhile, Campbell also worked to make himself bigger.
“He’s nasty,” Simmons said of Campbell. “A lot of times you don’t think of bigger guys being that fast and can move that well, but he’s like Bryce Wheaton. They both can do that.”
This is why the receiving corps has developed a dangerous look to it while staying undercover.
“A lot of people aren’t talking about us. We’re under the radar,” Wheaton said. “We’re going to shock some people.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.