NCF Nation: Will Clarke

Spring preview capsules: Big 12

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
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Spring football is rapidly approaching.

Here's a team-by-team look at what to watch in the Big 12 this spring:

Baylor

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 5

What to watch: Who will replace Lache Seastrunk? The Bears' running back was the engine that helped keep the Baylor offense balanced and defenses honest. Shock Linwood will step in, but is he ready to handle the burden of keeping the offense balanced? . . . Baylor, the 2013 regular-season champion, has to find key replacements on a defense that is losing half of its starters. But several second-teamers -- including Jamal Palmer, Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Orion Stewart -- are poised to fill the void . . . The Bears need to replace guard Cyril Richardson along the offensive line. Several candidates, including junior college transfer Jarell Broxton, will battle for the job. Baylor has arguably the league's best group of skill position players, but that will mean nothing if its offensive line takes a step backward.

Iowa State

Spring start: March 10

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: New offensive coordinator Mark Mangino arrives in Ames to bring more points and creativity to the Cyclones’ offense. The spring is the first opportunity for Mangino to get a feel for the playmakers and the players to get a feel for Mangino’s expectations . . . The quarterback competition is another thing to keep an eye on. Grant Rohach ended the season as the starter, but Sam B. Richardson could take his job back with a strong spring. And there are other young quarterbacks on campus who could insert themselves into the mix . . . Defensively, the Cyclones need to replace linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington, who finished 1-2 in tackles in the Big 12 in 2013 and finished their careers with 59 career starts combined. Iowa State seems to always have quality linebackers, so finding a replacement for Washington could be the defense’s top priority in the spring.

Kansas

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Shuffling the offensive coaching staff has been the theme of the offseason. New offensive coordinator John Reagan, who was a KU assistant from 2005 to 2009, returns to the Jayhawks after running Rice’s offense last season. The spring is Reagan’s first chance to identify the playmakers who will be the foundation of his offense this fall. Expect wide-open competition across the board after KU finished 115th in the FBS in points scored ... The quarterback position will grab the headlines, with T.J. Millweard joining the competition with Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart, who each started games in 2013. Millweard transferred to KU from UCLA before the 2013 season.

Kansas State

Spring start: April 2

Spring game: April 26

What to watch: Finding John Hubert’s replacement sits high on the Wildcats’ priority list. The former running back carried the ground attack for the past three seasons, and there’s no clear favorite to step into his shoes. Will someone step up during spring football? . . . What will happen with quarterback Daniel Sams? The Wildcats have a proven Big 12 playmaker in Sams, a junior, and another proven quarterback in Jake Waters. Sams is an exceptional open-field runner who started two games in 2013, but look for Kansas State to start exploring ways to have both on the field together this spring . . . Replacing Ty Zimmerman’s playmaking and leadership on defense is another key this spring. The defense has to replace several starters in the secondary and at linebacker. Keep an eye on junior college defensive back Danzel McDaniel, who has the versatility to step in at several different spots.

Oklahoma

Spring start: March 8

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: With Trevor Knight poised to start at quarterback in 2014, Blake Bell moves to tight end after starting eight games under center in 2013. Bell’s transition to tight end will be the talk of the spring, with the senior’s commitment to the program and OU's need for help at the position . . . The battle to be the starting running back is another storyline, with sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross hoping to make a statement this spring before ESPN 300 running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine arrive in the summer. Ford forced his way into the lineup as a freshman before an injury slowed him . . . The Sooners will be looking to shore up the secondary after the departure of All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin and starting safety Gabe Lynn. Sophomore Stanvon Taylor could be set to replace Colvin, while sophomores Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas will battle to replace Lynn.

Oklahoma State

Spring start: March 10

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Incoming freshman Mason Rudolph enrolled early to participate in spring football with the hope of replacing quarterback Clint Chelf. J.W. Walsh has won a lot of games in a Cowboys uniform, but will have to hold off stern competition to earn the starting spot as a junior . . . The Cowboys lose seven seniors off one of their best defenses in recent memory. The overall quality might be upgraded, but spring football will be the first chance to see if those talented yet inexperienced defenders are ready to step into the fire. Defensive end Jimmy Bean, linebacker Ryan Simmons and cornerback Kevin Peterson could emerge as the foundation of the defense . . . Who will step up at receiver? The Cowboys lose three of their top four receivers, with Jhajuan Seales as the lone returnee. But several youngsters appear poised to step in, including sophomore Marcell Ateman and redshirt freshman Ra'Shaad Samples.

TCU

Spring start: March 1

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie have arrived to take over as co-offensive coordinators at TCU. The Horned Frogs need a jump start and could get it from the “Air Raid”-style offense the duo will bring to the table. This spring will be an important first step in improving the offense . . . Who will be the quarterback? Trevone Boykin started several games in 2013 but might actually be TCU’s top receiver. Tyler Matthews, a redshirt freshman, also saw time under center, but he faces stiff competition. Don’t expect the battle to end until fall camp . . . TCU needs someone to step up in the secondary, with Jason Verrett NFL-bound after spending the past two seasons as one of the Big 12’s top coverage cornerbacks. Ranthony Texada and Travoskey Garrett are among several young defensive backs who could try to fill the void.

Texas

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch: David Ash's health will be one of the main storylines of Texas’ first spring under coach Charlie Strong. Ash has the talent to be a key piece of the puzzle, but head injuries are always tough to overcome. If Ash is 100 percent healthy, the Longhorns will feel better about the overall status at quarterback . . . Strong has talked of instilling a tough mindset in Austin since he arrived in January, and spring football will be the first real taste of what the Longhorns’ new coach is trying to bring to the program . . . Where are the playmakers? Texas has a talent-laden roster, but didn’t have the exceptional talent who could consistently change games. This spring gives several returning skill players, including receiver Jaxon Shipley and all-purpose standout Daje Johnson, the chance to become the foundation of the offense in 2014.

Texas Tech

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Davis Webb's health is the No. 1 priority for the Red Raiders, who have seen three quarterbacks leave the program since the beginning of the 2013 season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury could have the toughest job of the spring as he tries to manage the lack of quarterbacks with the desire to have a productive spring for the roster as a whole . . . The Red Raiders have some consistency among the defensive coaching staff, meaning they could improve in 2014 despite losing multiple starters, including defensive tackle Kerry Hyder, linebacker Will Smith and safety Tre' Porter. Tech could start seeing dividends of that continuity . . . The Red Raiders have to replace Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, who combined to catch 189 passes for 2,299 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez made a bunch of plays in 2013 and Devin Lauderdale, a junior college transfer and early enrollee, will get the chance to show why he had Texas Tech fans buzzing when he initially signed in February 2013.

West Virginia

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Finding a quarterback is critical for the Mountaineers, who have talent at the skill positions but won’t transform into an explosive offense without efficient quarterback play. Clint Trickett is recovering from shoulder surgery, meaning Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and former receiver Logan Moore will run the offense this spring . . . Tony Gibson takes over as WVU’s defensive coordinator after coaching the safeties in 2013. His promotion allows some continuity on the defense after former DC Keith Patterson left for Arizona State after the season . . . Replacing defensive tackle Shaq Rowell and defensive end Will Clarke, who started 56 combined career games for WVU, won’t be easy. The Mountaineers will lean heavily on veteran juniors Isaiah Bruce and Karl Joseph, who have started since their freshman seasons.

WVU defense looking to prove itself

October, 4, 2013
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They could be the Big 12's most underrated unit. Or it all could be just a mirage.

West Virginia will learn a lot about its defense when it takes on the explosive Baylor offense on Saturday night. Has the Mountaineers defense improved significantly? The numbers say yes.

WVU ranks second in first downs allowed per game (15.6), second in forced turnovers (11), third in red zone efficiency defense (40 percent) and third in yards allowed per game (345.4) in the Big 12 this season. WVU finished in the bottom half of the conference in all of those categories in 2012.

A combination of improved senior leadership and game experience has helped a Mountaineer defense which was littered with true and redshirt freshman a year ago.

"No disrespect to last year's team, but our senior leadership is phenomenal," defensive tackle Shaq Rowell said. "We have more people not afraid to say something, not afraid to be wrong and guys not afraid to make plays."

Tyler Lockett
AP Photo/Christopher JacksonSophomore Karl Joseph led West Virginia in tackles last year and is part of an improved unit this year.
The improvement and maturity from the young players, who struggled at various times last season, has helped as well. Those players took their lumps in 2012, but it has helped them in 2013.

"We're not playing 10 true freshmen," coach Dana Holgorsen said. "Which is probably the biggest difference [between last year and this year]."

Teammates like Rowell can tell the difference in players like sophomore Karl Joseph, who led the squad with 104 tackles as a true freshman yet had his share of mistakes as well.

"It's day and night now," Rowell said. "Those guys are more confident in themselves, and they're learning you're not in high school anymore, you've got to grow up ASAP. They're understanding you can't be a freshman or sophomore anymore, you have to play like a senior. You have to prepare like an older guy. Nobody cares how old you are when you're making a play."

It all has led to the improved numbers from WVU's defense, and the Mountaineers have put up those defensive numbers as the lone Big 12 team that has played two conference games, allowing four combined touchdowns against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, two of the league's top offenses a year ago. Yet, even Holgorsen isn't ready to say his defense has arrived.

"We'll see how they do this week, playing against the best offense in college football in Baylor," he said.

After its performance last season, it's easy to see why anyone would have reservations about the solid start to the season for WVU's defense. But, even in WVU's 37-0 loss to Maryland, the Mountaineers defense performed well enough to win, as the Terps had one touchdown drive of more than 24 yards in their blowout win, while the Mountaineer offense stuttered.

It has given the Mountaineers the confidence to believe things have changed after they fielded arguably the Big 12's worst defense in 2012. Keith Patterson has taken over as the Mountaineers' lone defensive coordinator, installing his 3-4 system and simplifying things after sharing the co-defensive coordinator role with Joe DeForest a year ago.

"The No. 1 thing for us is believing in ourselves," Rowell said. "We're playing with a chip on our shoulder. We couldn't care less what people think. We know what the whole world thinks about us. That's the beauty of football -- the underdog can come out and win every game. This year nobody is expecting nothing from us."

Truer words were never spoken.

The nation fully expects Baylor's offense to run up and down the field on the Mountaineers, with images from Floyd Casey Stadium full of Lache Seastrunk touchdown gallops and Bryce Petty lasers to wide open Bears receivers destined to be on SportsCenter this weekend.

"I expect stuff like that to happen based off the way we played last year," defensive end Will Clarke said. "Nobody believes we're good yet. Nobody believes we've had that test yet."

It's a test the WVU is looking forward to.

"Definitely," Clarke said when asked if he wants the challenge of stopping BU. "They're the top guys, and everyone wants to play against the cream of the crop."
Reviewing West Virginia's Gold-Blue spring game from Friday night, won by the offense 83-17:

Offensive MVP: Quarterback Geno Smith completed 26 of 37 passes for 388 yards and four touchdowns as Dana Holgorsen's offense was fully unleashed against the Mountaineers' second-string defense. Smith's night included 44- and 67-yard touchdown passes to Stedman Bailey and a 38-yard scoring strike to Tavon Austin. Backup quarterback Paul Millard added 253 yards and two touchdowns on 18-of-30 passing. Overall, the offense racked up 838 total yards and 683 in the air on 104 plays.

Defensive MVP: Julian Miller had two sacks and four total tackles, though this was clearly a night set up for the offense.

Costly injury? Starting offensive guard Josh Jenkins suffered an MCL sprain and a strain of another ligament around his kneecap. Jenkins will be put in a brace and go through physical therapy for six to eight weeks to let the MCL sprain heal. The West Virginia medical staff will decide after that time whether Jenkins needs surgery on his knee cap. Not having Jenkins would be a big loss for the Mountaineers.

Running back battle: One of the more intriguing subplots of the spring for the Mountaineers was who would claim the No. 1 tailback spot. It's a battle that probably will continue into the fall. True freshman Vernard Roberts led all rushers with 64 yards on 10 carries Friday. Trey Johnson had 57 yards on nine attempts and the only rushing touchdown. Johnson also had a 65-yard reception for a score.

Other notes: The estimated crowd of 22,000 was the largest for a Big East spring game this year. ... Ryan Nehlen was given the Nickolich Award as the top walk-on of the spring, and he caught five passes for 79 yards in the spring game. ... Defensive lineman Will Clarke, linebacker Najee Goode and cornerback Keith Tandy received the Iron Mountaineer Award, presented to the most outstanding performers in the team's offseason strength and conditioning program.

West Virginia-Maryland kickoff notes

September, 18, 2010
9/18/10
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MORGANTOWN, W. Va. -- Who will start in place of suspended cornerback Brandon Hogan for West Virginia?

Most people expected it to be Brodrick Jenkins. But when the Mountaineers lined up for warm-ups, it was Pat Miller playing with the starting defense, with Jenkins running with the twos. I would expect to see both play today.

That will also put more pressure on Keith Tandy, who West Virginia fans know has had his ups and downs in coverage the past couple of years. If Maryland doesn't take a couple of deep shots early, especially to Torrey Smith, it would rank as a real surprise.

Defensive end Will Clarke is also out for West Virginia. He's a pass-rushing specialist. That should mean more snaps for heavily-hyped juco import Bruce Irvin. Will the Mountaineers record their first sack of the season today?
If the 2009 Big East season taught us anything, it was that newcomers can have a big impact.

From offensive player of the year Dion Lewis to Tom Savage and Mohamed Sanu to Jason Pierre-Paul to Greg Paulus, new faces were having an impact all over the league. So which newcomers to the Big East should we be keeping an eye on this spring? Here are a few candidates:

  • Vidal Hazelton, WR, Cincinnati: The USC transfer becomes eligible this season and could become an immediate star. He's got size, at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, and wowed onlookers at practice last year. Hazelton could help make sure the Bearcats don't miss a beat on offense this season without Mardy Gilyard.
  • Will Clarke, DE, West Virginia: The Mountaineers need some depth up front defensively, and Clarke should be able to help out after a redshirt year. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound Pittsburgh native can use this spring to push for playing time at defensive end before highly regarded junior college transfer Bruce Irvin arrives this summer.
  • Darrell Givens, CB, Rutgers: Givens was an ESPNU 150 recruit who came to Rutgers after not being admitted to Penn State last year. He spent the 2009 season redshirting as the Scarlet Knights had Devin McCourty. Now may be Givens' time to shine with both McCourty and Billy Anderson gone. Also keep an eye on Logan Ryan, a fellow redshirt freshman corner who was neck and neck with Givens in practice sessions last year.
  • Claude Davis, DE, South Florida: The next Pierre-Paul? OK, that's expecting too much of anyone. But like the Bulls' one-year wonder, Davis was a junior college standout with excellent measurables (6-foot-4, 250 pounds). Unlike his predecessor, Davis enrolled in January and will get a full spring under his belt before entering major college football. And with Pierre-Paul and George Selvie both off to the NFL, there is ample playing time available.
  • Devin Street, WR, Pittsburgh: Street wasn't one of Pitt's more heralded recruits from the class of 2009, but he won rave reviews last season as a member of the scout team. This spring provides an opportunity for the 6-foot-3, 180-pounder to show he's ready to become an option behind Jonathan Baldwin and Mike Shanahan in the Pitt passing game.

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