Fans of West Virginia University’s Football Team are very interested in the Mountaineers’ spring drills this season. The savvy fan always gears up for spring practice, but this year there is added excitement in the air. That is because new offensive coordinator/head coach in waiting, Dana Holgorsen, is installing his high-powered offense this spring. Never mind that the defense needs to replace seven starters from a year ago, it is the offense that is drawing the lion’s share of the attention. Of course anyone really paying attention knows that Jeff Casteel’s job this spring is every bit as important as Holgorsen’s.
Then again, if Holgorsen can get more points on the scoreboard this season, Casteel’s defense may not have to be as stout as it was a year ago. In West Virginia’s four losses last season the opponents scored 23, 20, 19 and 16 points. With the personnel on last season’s offense, winning at least three, or all four of those games would not have been asking for much.
In any event, based on a smattering of reports from three practices, none that have included scrimmages, the fans are excited. Receivers coach Shannon Dawson may have fueled that energy a bit when he discussed with the press last week how this offense has consistently produced a 100 catch per season receiver. That would be a gaudy total for a WVU receiver, because the season reception record at West Virginia is 77 and belongs to David Saunders.
We know the guy pulling the trigger in this offense will be quarterback Geno Smith who recorded over 2700 yards passing in last year’s offense. Now, everyone is assuming Smith will have little trouble grasping the new offense and Smith does seem like the kind of player that should thrive in the system. Just how fast Smith becomes acclimated is a huge key as to what kind of numbers go up next season. Behind Smith on the depth chart will be a pair of true freshmen, Paul Millard from Texas and Brian Athey from Wisconsin.
Both Millard and Athey enrolled in January so they could participate this spring. So far, the edge is with Millard for the second spot on the depth chart, because he played in this offense in high school. Athey played in a successful run first, throw second offense in high school and is doing a great job of playing catch up, at least according to reports.
Perhaps a clearer picture would be the potential of some of West Virginia’s receivers to thrive in this offense. It would seem perfect for Tavon Austin, Brad Starks and Stedman Bailey. Sparsely used, Ivan McCartney will have the opportunity to make an impact this spring and he has the size and speed to make a huge difference.
My favorite thing to look forward to is the use of Tyler Urban in the offense. Listed as a tight end for three years with only a few passes thrown his way, Urban has been an under used commodity. While Holgorsen doesn’t use a tight end in his offense, it does look like there may be a place for the 6-5, 255 Urban as a slot receiver. Urban promises to punish secondary types, either running at them with the ball, or blocking for someone else.
It has been awhile since WVU has been looking for a running back entering a new season. The last time there was a true competition was when a true freshman named Steve Slaton emerged as the starter midway through the 2005 season. Right now there are no fewer than eight players trying to make the depth chart, and two freshmen scheduled to make a bid in the fall. That race will be interesting as well.