Early Impressions

There are some limitations to what anyone can take away from spring practice any year, and West Virginia only was two weeks into its drills before its players and coaches went their separate ways for spring break. Still, a few key themes emerged in even that short amount of time.

  • 1. The offense has the chance to be extraordinarily good.

    It's dangerous to make any bold proclamations after two weeks of spring practice, and such claims are called even more into question when viewed through the prism of the fact reporters have yet to see a single snap of live football.

    There's not a lot of guesswork to be done when it comes to the offense. You know the key names that are back: Geno Smith at quarterback, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin at receiver. With that talented trio alone, there would sufficient reason for optimism.

    Add in a few emerging names that could contribute: Andrew Buie, from all accounts, has wowed coaches and teammates alike with his "quick-twitch" running style. Dante Campbell has the body type (and, from what many have said, the skills) to bring critical quality depth at receiver.

    Then there's talk of real progress along the offensive line. Position coach Bill Bedenbaugh isn't exactly the type of guy who is prone to hyperbole, but he said this group has the right combination of experience and desire to truly be special when fall comes around.

    Put it all together, and where is the weakness with this offense? If the offensive line lives up to its potential and depth builds at running back (with Buie, Dustin Garrison and Shawne Alston forming a quality trio) and receiver, the potential exists that this offensive group could have the most potential of any in school history.

  • 2. Less rigidity, more instincts required on defense.

    To a man, players and coaches on the defensive side of the ball have expressed that there is little difficulty in actually learning the base of the hybrid 3-4 defensive scheme the Mountaineers are installing this spring.

    That's by design, according to co-coordinator Joe DeForest. The defense is going to be geared around putting athletic playmakers in the right positions and then allowing their natural instincts and talents to take over.

    There is at least some contrast between this scheme and the former 3-3-5 look employed by longtime defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. Being "assignment sound" was truly the name of the game in recent years -- if you didn't understand the concepts (and they were, according to players, tougher to grasp) you had little chance for success.

    This should be an aggressive, ball-hawking defense that will pursue turnovers at every opportunity and will focus on creating matchup problems with its athleticism. The actual Xs and Os aren't all that complicated, to hear West Virginia's players tell the story.

    In fact, despite the fact head coach Dana Holgorsen had said the defensive players would be "spoon fed" the new scheme this spring, DeForest indicated the base installation had gone well enough in the first couple of weeks to allow a few blitz packages to be installed before spring break.

    How it all actually looks right now is anyone's guess (the guess here is it's hardly anywhere close to game-ready), but there seems to be a quiet confidence that the "learning curve" isn't as steep as some may have imagined.

  • 3. Special teams have a chance to be special.

    A football doesn't literally have three sides, but Holgorsen often likes to talk about the "three sides of the ball" contributing to victory.

    Indeed, even after his offense received much of the credit for WVU's 70-point explosion in its Orange Bowl annihilation of Clemson, the head coach was quick to point out the quality of defensive and special teams play in setting up the offense for success.

    Special teams weren't exactly a strength for much of last season. Tyler Bitancurt again was inconsistent, going only 8-of-13 on field goals longer than 30 yards while having a pair of kicks blocked. Punters Corey Smith and Michael Molinari were consistently inconsistent.

    Austin was an electric kickoff and punt returner at times, but also made some questionable decisions about when to field kicks and when not to, which, combined with a lack of sure-handedness, led coaches to put Devon Brown back deep at times.

    Perhaps coaching alone isn't the answer to all those problems, but given a true special teams coordinator (Steve Dunlap) and a coach who truly knows the ins-and-outs of the kicking game (DeForest), lack or preparation shouldn't be a problem for the third side of the ball anymore.

    It's still early, but Smith has looked impressive and consistent in his punting. Return and coverage schemes have gotten plenty of work. Bitancurt has a coach in DeForest who has trained a recent Lou Groza Award-winner (Oklahoma State's Dan Bailey).

    Like the other two points above, this speaks to potential. If you base your evaluations of West Virginia as a football team this spring on that potential, then you should be extremely excited about this team's chances moving forward.

  • BlueGoldNews Top Stories