Last year and the year before, WVU was starting to move in the direction of having that type of depth, and it looks like that's going to be the case again this year as head coach Dana Holgorsen prepares to enter his fifth season at the helm of the Mountaineer program. After finding some continuity on the coaching staff and continuing to build on the recruiting trail, West Virginia is finally getting to the point where it can say it has a full plate of 85 players on scholarship when the 2015 season starts in a few months.
Spring practice is usually the first glimpse at the type of depth that a team has, and you saw it last week when the Mountaineers closed the book on spring practice this season with the Gold-Blue Spring Game. And the Mountaineer defense's 42-10 win against the offense showed a shining example of one key fact to remember when talking about a team's depth.
There's a difference between having depth and having quality depth. And that difference, ultimately, can send a team over the top and turn them into a good team or one that struggles to reach and stay above .500.
Offensively, WVU looked like a team that had plenty of options to look to at several different positions. Five quarterbacks took snaps, the Mountaineers had plenty of talent at the skill positions - including several who showed enough versatility that they could play at a handful of different positions, whether it be in the backfield, out wide or in the slot at receiver - and they have continued to build more depth along the offensive line. But while it looked like there wasn't a huge drop-off among the guys who were rotating in and out of the game, WVU struggled to look anything more than average for the duration of the scrimmage in which it was only able to score one touchdown.
Of course this is without running backs Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood, as well as freshman Yodny Cajuste who was taking reps with the first-team offense at left tackle, but that's why spring is so valuable because they can work the other players in.
Where you saw the difference was when you saw the quality depth of the WVU defense going up against the depth that West Virginia currently has on the offensive side of the ball. With its two best defensive linemen, two starters at linebackers who will be looked at as the leaders of the unit as well as the Mountaineers' best cornerback all sidelined for the game - in addition to a handful of other contributors - the Mountaineers didn't miss a beat and kept rolling with the guys it had available.
It's been pretty clear that the WVU defense has made great strides schematically under Tony Gibson, but it's amazing what you're seeing now that this group has had a handful of seasons with these coaches. There are a bunch of guys who have experience and learned on the job when they were thrown into the fire and that has developed into some great depth, and it's very likely that the defense will be able to lead the way for this program this season.
And I'm not saying the offense won't be able to do that this year and make a big step. If anything, it's a call for patience as this group goes through the growing pains, once again, that come with having to rebuild and find replacements for its biggest playmakers. It's not always going to be pretty and it's going to take some time. But that's what it takes to get to that quality depth.
The numbers are there. Now comes time to put those numbers into action and get them playing at a high level in the offseason.