Thoughts from West Virginia
April, 6, 2011
By Brian Bennett | ESPN.com
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. -- Some quick thoughts after attending the viewing window of West Virginia's spring practice on Wednesday, the Mountaineers' first day in full pads:
- I was excited to see Dana Holgorsen's new offense in person, and it's not hard to see the reasons for optimism. The Mountaineers have speed at receiver, a promising young quarterback in Geno Smith and were giving their own defenses problems with the mix of run and pass. Bill Stewart had told me on Monday that the team hadn't looked downfield much yet in practice, but Smith threw deep a few times during the 11-on-11 period, and with good success. It wasn't all passing, though, as the offense lined up with two backs frequently and did some inside zone running.
- Holgorsen mostly stands on the sidelines during the team periods, signaling in the calls as he will on gameday. He doesn't say a whole lot during practice, letting his assistants handle the bulk of the talking. Holgorsen gives out a lot more instructions during film review, the players say.
- No worries about Smith's health. He was participating in all drills and running around well on his surgically repaired foot. This offense doesn't ask him to run much, anyway.
- Freshman Paul Millard got the second-team reps and throws a nice ball. Holgorsen told me he's far ahead of fellow freshman Brian Athey at this point, mostly owing to the fact that he played 5-A Texas high school ball. How this kid went unrecruited is baffling.
- Still no real standouts at tailback, but Daquan Hargrett had some nice runs while I was watching, including a burst up the middle for a long touchdown.
- Brad Starks got behind the defense for a long completion. He looks great and could be poised for a big senior year. Ivan McCartney dropped a pass early but later caught a short one and completely juked Brodrick Jenkins out of his shoes. McCartney has major potential if he continues to develop and mature. J.D. Woods also made a nice catch in traffic. Tyler Urban also got involved, and it will be interesting to see how the offense uses him.
- The defense wasn't allowed to tackle the quarterback, of course, but Bruce Irvin was in the backfield a lot -- "No one can block him yet," Stewart said -- and Julian Miller wasn't far behind. That's not surprising, especially since starting offensive tackles Don Barclay and Jeff Braun are out this spring with injuries. Irvin and a few other players were wearing the gold shoes from last year's special Nike Pro Combat uniforms, which made me happy to see.
- Linebacker Tyler Anderson had an interception off a tipped ball. Stewart then told him he should have stayed up and tried to score instead of falling on the ground. About the only thing last year's defense didn't do right last year was get turnovers and points.
- Overall impression: The Mountaineers weren't as sharp or crisp defensively as they were a year ago at this time, but that's almost a given after losing seven starters. There is still a lot of talent and speed here, and it's just going to take a little time for the defense to gel and the offense to get the system down. If it all comes together, this could easily be the best team in the Big East this year. But there's a long way to go.