Depleted Troops

As West Virginia's football team split into position groups for individual drills at Friday's football practice, a glaring deficiency in numbers became immediately apparent in one corner of the field.

Typically, each station is populated with several players, but at the far end of the grass practice field, coaches and managers outnumbered the players. That was the quarterback spot, where newly-promoted assistant coach Jake Spavital, along with a manager and trainer, held court with just two charges -- Geno Smith and Paul Millard.

West Virginia's depth at the position, already hurt by the departures of Jeremy Johnson and Barry Brunetti a year ago, was crushed with the transfer of third-teamer Brian Athey. Walk-on Scottie Frisina, listed on last year's roster, did not return to the program and wasn't listed on this year's roster. Thus, the Mountaineers began fall practice with just two QBs on the roster -- less than half the number that head coach Dana Holgorsen has ever had at his disposal in any of his previous coaching stops.

"It's the first time I've been in camp where I haven't had five [quarterbacks]," the new head coach said, shaking his head a bit at the turn of events. "We've got to work on that and figure out what to do."

Holgorsen admitted that he didn't have an immediate answer for the lack of arms.

Paul Millard
"We're looking. I don't have any answer for you right now. We'll continue to address it every day, but I can't make them just appear at this point. We'll keep meeting and talking about it."

Without enough quarterbacks to make the required number of throws to conduct drills, Spavital, a former quarterback, jumped into the fray to throw during pitch and catch sessions. That solution, however, wasn't appealing to Hologorsen.

"The only thing that probably didn't make a whole lot of sense was to have coaches out there throwing the ball. That doesn't do us any good," he said. "But that's what we did today."

Without any other QBs to turn to, however, that was the only immediate option Holgorsen had to avoid burning out the arms of Smith and Millard early in camp. Coley White, a former quarterback turned wide receiver, could be a short term solution, but such a move would certainly hinder any chances of him competing for time at receiver. West Virginia will likely be casting about for walk-ons to fill the void, but a timetable for adding players is unknown.

With true freshman Millard behind Smith in the offense, concern also naturally rises about the potential effects of an injury on the position. That's obviously out of the control of Holgorsen, but he is riding a personal record for not losing quarterbacks to injury.

"Never," was his short answer to a question about the number of seasons (20) in which he has had a quarterback knocked out of action. "Twenty-for twenty," he added, while rapping the wood of his speaking podium for good luck.

Holgorsen won't rely on just blind fortune, however, to help him continue that streak. He'll continue to emphasize two aspects of his offense that have allowed his quarterbacks to avoid hits and remain healthy during their careers.

"I think it's a lot of scheme," he said, enumerating the first of the pair of items. "We sort out the protections pretty good. "And we coach the QB to get rid of the ball and call plays to keep pressure off him. It's a lot of scheme and a little bit of coaching."

With quarterbacks protected during fall camp, taking hits shouldn't be an issue, but once games begin, that will go out the window. And even if WVU is able to add a couple more players to provide arms for camp, no one is likely going to be added that would have any chance of seeing the field, other than in a dire emergency. Thus, Holgorsen is faced with two problems -- the short term need for more bodies in camp, and the long term requirement for getting his QBs ready for games. He understands the former, but is focusing on the latter.

"Right now, I'm more concerned about my number one and number two than I am about number three," he said.

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