Spring review: West Virginia

Spring football may have been more important at West Virginia than any other Big 12 school. The Mountaineers lost several NFL draft picks off its defense and the Big 12's leading rusher.

Here’s what we learned about West Virginia during spring football.

What we learned about the offense: Skyler Howard looks like he’s going to build upon his MVP performance in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl. The Mountaineers’ senior quarterback threw three touchdowns in the spring game and seems to be developing a chemistry with West Virginia’s receivers that could be hard to stop. Spring also meant the welcome emergence of early enrollee Kennedy McKoy, who could team with Rushel Shell to give a quality backfield duo despite Wendell Smallwood’s early departure to the NFL.

What we learned about the defense: We knew the Mountaineers had athletes on the defensive side of the ball, but spring allowed some of those guys to emerge and help make the questions on defense less overwhelming. Linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton is growing as a leader while safety Dravon Askew-Henry is experienced and ready for a bigger role. Some questions remain, but the Mountaineers defense definitely took some positive steps during the spring.

Breakout player: McKoy or Benton each fill the bill, but the junior linebacker gets the nod as he should play a bigger role on defense as a potential starter and leader to step into the spot left open by the departure of All-Big 12 honoree Nick Kwiatkoski. West Virginia was hopeful he would step up, and he did. Now he should be a solid foundation to build around.

"I think Al is doing a really good job of being a leader over on the defensive side," defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. "He’s a kid who’s very smart. He understands the whole scheme. What he has different than any of the other linebackers is he started in games. Love the way he’s been progressing. He’s getting better and understanding what we need. He’s helping a lot of the other guys out as well."

Key storyline: It cannot be overstated how important it is for Howard to continue his progress in the offense. He has flashed ability, but needs to use his full season of experience as a starter to become more consistent and make fewer mistakes. If he does, West Virginia could surprise and enter the Big 12 title race.