Here's Part II of my conversation with West Virginia coach Bill Stewart. You can read Part I here.
This is the first time in a few years you haven't known who your starting tailback will be. How do you see that position this spring?
Bill Stewart: Well, it's wide open, honestly. We have some talented young men who are young guys. Shawne Alston, Ryan Clarke, Matt Lindamood -- these guys have played. Now it's time for Trey Johnson and some of these other signees from the year before to step up and make plays. This is going to be a learning spring, a big spring for them. And it's one they have a chance to showcase their skills out in space. That's what this offense is all about -- giving the ball to fast, athletic, quick guys who can make people miss. I don't think it will be a thing of beauty right from the start, but it will grow and we'll get better. I think all Mountaineer fans will be excited about what our offense is going to bring come August.
We saw Tavon Austin break out last year. How excited are you to see what he can do next, especially in this offense?
BS: You just have to get the ball in his hands. It doesn't matter if he's out in the flat, down the field or coming out of the backfield, he's a guy who has to have his touches. When he does touch the ball, good things happen. If the past is any indication of what's coming, then he has a chance for a tremendous year.
BS: He has a chance to really get into the fold and the rotation. Last year, he just didn't know. He didn't have a spring ball, and as a true freshman, it's very, very difficult, particularly when you have players like Bradley Starks and Stedman Bailey out there. Ivan McCartney has a chance to be a very, very good player. You can't expect a touchdown every time the young man touches the ball. He's going to have to learn, going to have to block, run precise routes, be where he's supposed to be when the ball is in the air, get the ball and go make plays. He has the capability to do that, and he's shown some of it at times in scrimmages and things we did last fall. Spring time is a clean slate, a chance to go out and get a job. We're going to play a lot of receivers. I would think being a receiver in this offense, or a running back, whatever kind of skill person you are, that you would get excited because the ball is going to get thrown to you.
Where is Coley White this spring? Will he work at quarterback at all?
BS: Coley will be out in the slot at inside receiver. Geno Smith is our quarterback, and we have two nice freshmen who will have a chance to show their skills behind him. Then we have guys who can jump back there in that Wildcat -- can you imagine Tavon or Bradley Starks jumping back there? So there's going to be enough talent. We just have to stay healthy, and we have to see the new coaches and players. They'll all jell. It will just take a little time and be a learning situation But I truly expect smooth sailing.
You talked about the difficulty in replacing Chris Neild at nose tackle. What are your options there?
BS: Jorge Wright has a chance. He's grown now, he's a bigger young man. Josh Taylor has been a very steady backup. Those guys have a chance to get in there and show it's their time. Just like it's a chance for Branko Busic, Doug Rigg or Josh Francis at linebacker -- it's their time. At safety, it's time for Travis Bell to get out there and take a position. These are the things I'm excited about watching grow and formulate into a solid defense.
Bruce Irvin was spectacular as a pass-rush specialist last year. Can he now take the next step and be a complete player?
BS: He's worked very, very hard. He's gotten bigger, he's gotten stronger. Bruce has that innate strength, that explosiveness and power. And when you're fast, that really makes up for a lack of size. That speed, quickness, long arms -- he's like Julian Miller. These guys are not big, thick guys, but they're tall, very powerful guys that play with great leverage. If you'll remember, Bruce was not in spring ball [last year]. He was a third-down guy for the first half of the season, and then toward the second half, three-fourths of the year, he was in there on second down. Now what he has to become is a first-, second- and third-down player. And he's going to be in a starter's role. We don't want to just leave him in there and play the two-gap all the time, because now you're not using all his skill, his strength, speed and quickness. You put him in a position to make plays. Now he has to get in and play every down so he can become that complete overall and total football player.
You talked a lot last year about having the experience to disguise and move around on defense like the '08 team. Can you do that now without as much experience?
BS: The 2008 team was a thing of beauty, and last year was identical. You had a guy like a Robert Sands, a Sidney Glover -- those guys were moving, and if you pulled this end of the string the body parts all fell in place. This year, I still see a Terence Garvin, an Eain Smith, a Travis Bell who played a little bit. These guys have that, they just haven't done it.
It reminds me quite a bit of our '08 team, when we lost eight starters on defense after the Fiesta Bowl win. The first game we did OK, then we got beat up at East Carolina because we didn't tackle well, we didn't disguise well. Against Colorado, we got a little bit better. Then after that, they jelled together and got pretty solid. We're not at a point where we can do that every single year; it just doesn't happen. Not many teams in college football does that happen for. But we've got guys that have played, who have been out there in battle and in pressure situations enough that I think it will help carry over early. And it's all about early. It's like coming out of the blocks -- you have to have that confidence, have to have a playmaker, a guy who steps up.
You've talked about chemistry being key this year. What is the chemistry like with the whole new offensive staff?
BS: Everyone is fine. We're college football coaches, we love our jobs and do what we're supposed to do. The camaraderie we have blended in is what the players will see, and they'll pick up and go with that. I don't see one problem with that. It's been a smooth transition. We all get along and work hard. We're putting in the time to get to know each other. The staff will have to get to know each other and see what the players can do, and we'll rely on each other to win a football game.
I hope we're very, very explosive. We have the capability of that; it just hasn't been done yet. That's what spring is about, what fall preseason camp is about. You're not ever going to be hitting on all cylinders in the first game. But the camaraderie has been good. These guys are professionals, and it's much smoother than what people outside can imagine.