MORGANTOWN – Sam James doesn’t live in a bubble.
Really, he doesn’t.
West Virginia University’s redshirt freshman wide receiver realizes how many essential pieces the Mountaineers lost from the prolific 2018 passing attack.
James understands that quarterback Will Grier is in Carolina’s NFL training camp now, after completing 266 of 397 passes for 37 touchdowns last season.
He also knows wide receivers David Sills, Gary Jennings and Marcus Simms are gone after combining for 165 receptions in 2018.
James also realizes the projected starters in WVU’s depth chart combined for merely 44 catches last season. T.J. Simmons had 28, Tevin Bush 14, James two in four appearances and Isaiah Esdale zero while sitting out a redshirt year.
And never mind the quarterbacking merry-go-round featuring Austin Kendall, Jack Allison and Trey Lowe that is still spinning. Not to mention, the extremely deep running back corps that is expected to be the strength of the offense.
All those factors would seem to project a distinct drop-off in WVU’s downfield passing game.
Just don’t tell James.
He’s not buying it.
“We’re going to take shots,” said James firmly. “We’re definitely going to take shots. That’s just how I feel. Our receiving corps is sneaky good.
“People are underestimating us outside of football. So, we’re going to show them when we get the chance to play. We’re going to take the top off and people are going to be surprised.”
Those are strong words.
So, has too much been made of the loss of Sills, Jennings and Simms? Have fans fixated too much on what’s gone instead of what’s here?
“We know what we’re going to have to do as a receiving corps,” said the native of Richmond Hill, Georgia. “So, we just work at it every day.”
As an outside receiver, James could have a rather significant say in how productive WVU’s wide receivers will be this season. That’s because he brings elite speed to the corps.
Why, as just a junior in high school James won the Georgia 6A state track championship in the 400-meter run.
And he’s even faster now.
“Working with the staff got me a lot faster ... football speed,” said James. “Strength matters, too, to wideouts. If a defensive back gets his hands on you, you’ve got to be able to get him off. I am stronger and faster.”
That explains why the rapid wideout has been able to get deep in WVU’s practices.
“First, I love running deep because I’m fast enough to run away from the defensive back,” said James. “Those balls from Austin [Kendall]... those balls were good for me to be able to adjust to them on the outside and be able to catch them.
“Austin throws a different ball than Grier. I mean, it’s sort of the same because I have to get back on my side, but be able to fade outside, too. So, it’s just how he puts it depending on whether I have to fade or not.”
Okay, so far, we’ve gone down-and-out, short, long and for the bomb. It’s time for the all-encompassing question.
What is WVU’s passing game going to look like in 2019?
“Honestly?” said James. “In my opinion, we’re going to be tops in the nation. That’s just how I feel about my guys. I’m going to have their back; they’re going to have my back.”
James’ confidence is contagious.
But a wait-and-see attitude still seems prudent.