The WVU football team has made it through 10 practices, so let's take a look at 10 superlatives from the early stages of camp. This is my opinion and I'm certainly you'll disagree, which is why there's a comment section. Chime in! I respect your opinion just as much.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Devon Brown – The Wake Forest transfer brought experience with him to the Mountaineers, and it's obvious early on that he's coupled that with plenty of athleticism. Playing inside receiver in a frame more similar to Tavon Austin than Tyler Urban, Brown is turning heads and garnering praise from coaches and players alike.
Another receiver made a comment during practice that sounded as though he was in awe of the skills and the progress Brown had made early on. Add to that the fact that he's a skilled return man and WVU should get solid – or better – production from this summer acquisition.
Most Unpleasant Surprise: Bradley Starks – The senior receiver might have been one of the most excited returning Mountaineers when he began researching the numbers Dana Holgorsen's receivers have gotten in previous years, but to this point he may seems to have failed to take advantage of his situation.
A spring injury limited the impact Starks could make for his team and in his coaches' minds, and now he is seeing a plethora of candidates willing and able to jump him on the depth chart. If healthy, Starks still represents a deep threat for the Mountaineers, but he may have missed enough practice time that his opportunities become few and far between.
Most Improvement Made: Freshmen Running Backs – This may not be the best answer because, quite honestly, the WVU coaches seemed to expect it. Heck, the fans expected it. Pearland product Dustin Garrison and Trinity talent Andrew Buie each won their respective state titles as seniors. They're accustomed to success, and they intended to bring it to WVU.
But come on, every rising freshman feels that way. On day one of camp, running backs coach Robert Gillespie was hounding Garrison for the way he held the ball. Gillespie literally threw Buie to the ground during a ball security drill. Things weren't starting quite as planned.
But what a difference 10 practices can make. Gillespie and head coach Dana Holgorsen each have loads of positive feedback for their new backs and these two have joined fellow true freshman Vernard Roberts to climb the depth chart and push every returning Mountaineer.
Most Improvement Needed: Field Goal Unit – Dana Holgorsen says it's getting better, and that's certainly a positive sign, but these guys need to be darn near perfect. Perhaps you're one to believe in scoring touchdowns to avoid putting this team on the field, but even extra points have been blocked multiple times since the spring.
Tyler Bitancurt is entering his third season as the projected starter and the Mountaineers are hoping he can get his trajectory up on his kicks and get back to the success he found in his redshirt freshman season. He'll need help from his blockers, as well.
Strongest Position: Receivers – Inconsistency aside, there are athletes abound at the inside and wide receiver positions. The idea of a legitimate eight-man rotation is not difficult to picture, and they range from small and speedy to big and physical and should provide the Mountaineers with a variety of options through the air.
It's clear in watching the short amount of drills open to the media that blocking has been a big focus early in camp. Athleticism isn't lacking at receiver – if they can put it all together day in and day out, this will be a dangerous group.
Weakest Position: Offensive Line – Holgorsen has pointed out at various times throughout the first week of camp that he is disappointed in his reserve linemen's ability to compete for a starting position. In addition to that, he's still not certain if there is a right tackle ready to suit up Sept. 4.
The line has taken a good amount of criticism for its performance in recent years and the players were hopeful that a new coach and new scheme would improve the product on the field. To this point, it seems only a select few have focused in on their part of the equation.
Best Overall Player: Najee Goode – The senior has the ability to play any of the three linebacker positions and that fact is allowing defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel to plug in any number of combinations around him to find the perfect starting lineup.
Goode proved as a junior that he could make plays in space as well as providing a furious rush off the edge. His leadership and teaching skills are making all the players around him better and have helped get the new defensive lineup to fall in place. Sure, there are players who may put up more impressive numbers in 2011, but Goode provides the experience and athleticism that should ease many of the concerns brought on by the loss of seven starters on defense.
Most Impressive Leader: Keith Tandy – Take a listen to a WVU practice and you're certain to hear Tandy's voice barking out instruction and imploring his teammates to raise their level of energy and excitement.
From an undersized freshman to a much-maligned sophomore and finally a breakout junior – Tandy has made significant strides every year since he came to Morgantown. As a senior, he recognizes the need for his leadership – not just in his actions as he's done for years, but vocally as well.
As much as Tandy is a player to follow on the field, he's a person to follow off it, too. The Mountaineers have a quality leader in their senior cornerback.
Most Intriguing Position Battle: Running backs – This one was intriguing going into the spring because we were curious as to whether or not some players who had limited experience were ready to take over for Noel Devine. As it turns out, players with no experience at all are even up to the task.
The three true freshmen, in addition to sophomore Trey Johnson, look like the major contenders for the starting position, while bigger backs like Shawne Alston and Ryan Clarke seem poised for a complimentary position.
The good news? This staff likes to use players in situations they're good at. Just because one of these athletes doesn't make first-team doesn't mean he won't make an impact.
Feel-Good Story: Ryan Nehlen – After three seasons of putting in hard work, but rarely getting an opportunity to see the benefits on game day, the junior receiver seems poised to prove what he's capable of. If you ask him, his success in the spring and now in the summer is a result of that opportunity he hadn't had in the past.
Picking up where he left off – and not having a class schedule conflict – Nehlen has been dubbed the most consistent of Coach Daron Roberts' receivers. It's quite a compliment for a player whose career stat sheet is blank. Known for his last name when he first got to Morgantown, Ryan is looking for recognition for his first.