Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Breaking down spring camp: West Virginia
By David Ubben
West Virginia's spring practice is already underway. Let's take a closer look.
Schedule: West Virginia began the first of its 15 NCAA-allowed spring practices on Sunday, which will conclude on April 20 with the annual Blue-Gold Spring Game at Milan Puskar Stadium.
What's new: To quote one Andy Dwyer: "Ummm, A WHOLE LOT!" To my knowledge, there aren't any super straws roaming around Morgantown, but there are a whole lot of new changes on offense and on the defensive coaching staff. We'll tackle each of those a bit later in the post.
New faces: Seven players from the 2013 recruiting class will be practicing this spring for the Mountaineers, headlined by a pair of juco signees who could have an immediate impact. Receiver Kevin White is a 6-foot-4, 210-pounder from a junior college in Pennsylvania, who could help boost a depleted receiving corps, and Kansas native Dreamius Smith, a 5-10, 215-pound running back, is in Morgantown after a huge juco career that included a national title. They'll be joined by QB Chavas Rawlins, RB Wendell Smallwood, WR Daikiel Shorts, S Malik Greaves and LB Hodari Christian.
All eyes on: The quarterbacks. Geno Smith grew into an NFL first-round pick under Dana Holgorsen, but he's gone, and WVU will have one of the highest-quality quarterback competitions in the league. Texas natives Paul Millard and Ford Childress will go head to head this spring. Millard has the experience, and if I were guessing, I'd say Childress has the fan vote. Holgorsen and his staff's vote is the only one that matters, and they'll be campaigning all spring. This one looks like it'll be tight, but I liked what I saw from both when I visited Morgantown last spring and saw them up close.
Much to prove: Nobody's got more to prove than the defense, which proved exactly nothing in its first year in the Big 12. It looked unprepared to handle the high-powered offenses, and outside of some good debuts from freshmen Karl Joseph and Isaiah Bruce, looked pretty short on overall talent. Keith Patterson is taking the play-calling reins from Joe DeForest and cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts was shown the door in favor of Brian Mitchell, who will try and fix a problem position from 2012.
Question marks: WVU had one of the best receiving duos in Big 12 history last season with Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey stringing together seasons that were certainly worthy of a Biletnikoff Award in several other seasons. They're gone, and transfers mean five of WVU's top six receivers are all gone, leaving sophomore and spring 2012 breakout star Jordan Thompson behind as the top target after a quiet 2012 season once the fall arrived. It needs to find targets fast, and that could be influenced heavily by which guys develop chemistry with which quarterbacks, and which QB eventually wins the job.
Don't forget about: DL Will Clarke. He wasn't super strong last season, but he's a physical freak who might progress in Year 2 of this defensive scheme. The 6-7, 273-pounder moved to defensive tackle last year, and made 6.5 tackles for loss with 1.5 sacks. It didn't meet his expectations, but as a fifth-year senior in 2013, he might go out with a bang.