Holgorsen hopes to finish spring on high note

With a week left in spring practice, West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen has been pleased with what he has seen out of his team up to this point.

But as they head down the home stretch this week leading up to Saturday's Gold-Blue Spring Game, there are still some things left to be accomplished in order to get things where they want them to be heading into the preseason in a few months.

"We've accomplished some of the things just to put our guys in a different environment in front of a lot of people to see how they adjust to it (last week during practice at The Greenbrier)," Holgorsen said. "Tempers were flaring a little bit just because of the magnitude of what that practice was as opposed to what some of the other practices were.

"(During the spring game) we want to get them out of their comfort zone, put them in front of a lot of people and be able to put them in situations to see how specific kids handle it. I think that's valuable."

After a few weeks of going up against one another and only facing their teammates, the biggest concern Holgorsen has is the same thing a lot of coaches have at about this time during the spring. The focus during this final week stays on keeping everyone locked in on what they're supposed to do and making sure everybody remains in good health - aside from the obvious smaller injuries that are sometimes suffered throughout spring camp.

Last week during the open practice, West Virginia began sitting out a few players who were hurt as precautionary measures.

"Everybody is dealing with the same thing in practice No. 13 of spring," Holgorsen said. "We're going to go out today and go Thursday and then wrap up on Saturday and you beat the heck out of each other for a whole month and guys get tired of doing that, so you've got to push them through and get out there and get the work done. Everybody's got little nicks and bruises and we're no different than anybody else."

Position battles remain a focus

Holgorsen made some headlines Saturday afternoon when he stated that junior Skyler Howard had emerged as the "clear cut" No. 1 option at quarterback, standing out in the competition to take over as the Mountaineers' signal caller ahead of redshirt freshman William Crest and true freshmen David Sills and Chris Chugunov.

But while Howard may currently be the No. 1 guy on the depth chart, Holgorsen reiterated Tuesday that it, by no means, indicates that he's quite ready to name him his starter heading into the 2015 season quite yet.

I'm not going to say it's over at this point ... It's not over by any stretch of the imagination. I don't want any of them to feel like it's over ever," Holgorsen said. "A lot of the other positions, you can move some guys around and get them on the field and see how they perform. At the quarterback spot, obviously, there's just one of them, so you've got to manage the reps and there's no secret that the more reps you get the better off you are. There are only so many reps to go around, so you've got to distribute them and manage how you do that."

Much like he's had to do the last few springs when players have been fighting for that starting position, Holgorsen and the offensive coaching staff is using their practice time wisely to try to distribute the reps among the guys going for the job. It's much different than in past situations when players like Geno Smith have gone into a spring as the starting quarterback.

Howard and Crest have taken the bulk of the reps and now it's about seeing which of the two can build the chemistry with the rest of the offense best - something that Howard has started to have an edge in.

"You get out there and you take the number of reps you feel like you need and then you film them and get in the room and coach them. Probably the timing aspect of things is what you talk about a whole bunch," Holgorsen said. "There's the continuity point of view that needs to exist and that's what's so good about having a starter, a guy that takes the reps with the guys that are going to be out there and they can get on the same page and the continuity grows and the timing increases."

While that battle appears to be shaping up, on the defensive side of the ball, there's one battle that seems to be growing closer and closer by the day - much like it did a year ago.

Jeremy Tyler and Dravon Henry have been fighting neck-and-neck for a starting job at safety alongside of Karl Joseph and K.J. Dillon, with Tyler stepping up and pushing Henry after losing the job a year ago to the then-freshman.

"This is just (Tyler's) second spring. He was one of the guys that, because of our lack of depth on defense three or four years ago, had to play right away when he wasn't ready. But he's at the point now where he's been here and he understands what to do and he's maturing," Holgorsen said. "Usually you can count on guys when they're going into their third year. There's some rare exceptions, like Dravon Henry coincidentally, that you can count on as a true freshman but most of the time you've got to let guys develop for a couple of years before they're ready to go and that's where he's at now. He gets it now and he's doing some good things, which is just going to make us better on defense when you have that kind of depth and posiiotn battles."

Defense in better shape than ever under Gibson

It's no secret that the West Virginia defense struggled for the first few seasons that Dana Holgorsen was the head coach. The Mountaineers consistently ranked near the bottom of the Big 12, and nationally, in several defensive categories.

But after an encouraging first season with defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, it appears that this WVU defense has the potential to break out in a way that the Mountaineers just haven't been able to in a while. With several leaders returning who will be entering their fourth season as major contributors and a number of others with a great deal of experience in this system, Holgorsen feels better than he has in a long time about his defensive unit heading to the end of spring.

"Tony Gibson has done a great job, make no mistake about that," he said. "He brought (the scheme) here and he knows it as well as anybody so having guys - and we have about 15 guys that have started games for us - we're in a position defensively unlike any that I've been in in the five years I've been here.

"That should mean improvement and it should mean the best defense. I like where we're at. It's taken a long time to get us to this point but a lot of the seniors who will be going into the fourth year in the Big 12 were all freshmen when we entered the Big 12, so it should pay off."

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