For the past two weeks, it's been almost all football for the members of the 2013 Mountaineer squad. They've been able to concentrate on the game almost exclusively, although there are a few players who were finishing up some summer academic work. Now, however, that attention has to be split for all, as classwork begins demanding a good percentage of their time.
For most upperclassmen, that's nothing new. However, for newcomers and freshmen, the demands of both will take some adjustment. The use of time and self-discipline become more important, and those challenges may prove to be just as hard as executing the right run fit or making the right pass route read. All too often, those demands end up felling at least a few players each year.
That factor makes the determination of a depth chart – something that Mountaineer fans have been waiting for all fall – even more difficult for the coaching staff. In addition to evaluating performance on the field, they may have to take into account a player's perceived ability to handle many off the field factors. Academics, adapting to a new environment, being away from home – all of those things can affect performance on the field.
There's only so much predicting that the coaches can do in that regard, however. It's hard enough to figure out how a new guy is going to play when the game is for real, as opposed to practice. While the coaches try to put players under pressure as much as possible, it's often impossible to simulate the excitement and pressure of game day. There's just no way to forsee who might struggle under the dual pressures of football and academics.
Given all those factors, it's not hard to predict that West Virginia's starters and key reserves on Aug. 31 might not be the same as the ones that get the bulk of playing time a few weeks later. With so many different players competing for time, it stands to reason that the depth chart will see some shuffling as September progresses.
The process of identifying players to fill each spot has been a work in progress throughout fall camp, with a number of different players getting looks at different positions throughout the period. The late move of Isaiah Bruce from the Sam to the Spur linebacker spot speaks to that, and gives notice that even established players aren't immune to shifts. Bruce's move was clearly in response to a lack of speed and production at the outside linebacker positions, where West Virginia needs players that can rush (and get home) to opposing quarterbacks as well as drop into coverage.
Despite Bruce's reported quick adaptation to the position, there's still something of an adjustment period that must be completed anytime a change is made, especially for a youngster who has played just one year on the field. He'll likely be far better in mid-October than he is right now, simply due to the fact that he will have many more reps and several games' worth of experience. That will go double for newcomers making their first appearances in Division I – and as documented throughout our coverage of fall camp, there are going to be a lot of them. In turn, that means that WVU could be a far different team when it engages the meat of the Big 12 slate that the one that took the field in early September.
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Obviously, many fans are awaiting the official announcement of the starting quarterback. Head coach Dana Holgorsen noted at the start of camp that he would make the decision by this past Saturday, but also wryly noted that he didn't know if he would tell the media or not.
At this point, there wouldn't seem to be any harm to naming the starter, if the decision has in fact been made. The argument that not knowing the QB's identity will keep William & Mary guessing isn't a real factor – if West Virginia has to depend on hiding that in order to win the game, it has a lot more to worry about than fooling the Tribe. There's also the possibility that the decision has been made, but hasn't been shared with anyone outside the coaching staff. That might help keep the quarterbacks focused and motivated in the short term, but at some point the two that don't win the starting job are going to have to deal with that fact.
Finally, it's also slightly possible that Holgorsen and the staff haven't quite made up their minds yet, and want to watch a bit more action. That's by far the least likely scenario, though. With this week a sort of Twilight Zone between fall camp and a game week, there is more time to look at all three, but it would certainly be better if the choice has been made so as to fit with the normal breakdown of reps between starter and backups. Those reps are all the more valuable here, as none of the QB contenders are overloaded with game experience.
This isn't the only place that battles are still ongoing. While some leaders have emerged, there are still open spots on either the first or second teams at receiver, linebacker, safety and corner, not to mention "situational" units such as nickel and dime packages on defense, special teams and the like. The competition there is certainly still underway, and figures to continue throughout at least the first third of the season.