West Virginia Spring Football 2016 Quarterbacks Preview

As the first open practice of West Virginia's spring football season nears, we conclude our previews of the Mountaineers in the early months of 2016 with a look at the quarterbacks.

DEPARTURES

None. No graduations, no transfers of scholarship QBs. In today's landscape of shifting rosters, that's something of a rarity. It's also a factor that should help West Virginia build its depth at the position this spring and fall, as every QB that was in the picture last year, including walk-on Austin Hensley, is slated to be back.

REDSHIRTS RISING

There's an old adage that says the backup quarterback is the most popular guy on the team. If that's true, then it also extends to redshirts who haven't seen game action yet. This past year, that title went to Chris Chugunov, who earned some praise from coaches for his early showings in practice. Of course, without any public demonstrations, such evaluations tend to balloon out of control. That, in turn, can reflect unfairly on the players in question when they don't turn out to be All-Americans in their first ten snaps.

We're attempting to avoid all that here, and will stick with what we see in the spring. Chugunov likely sees a path to reaching the backup spot, given the position-dabbling of William Crest and David Sills, but there will be plenty of time for each, according to head coach Dana Holgorsen. Holgorsen noted that his program did a study of the number of live reps run during practices a year ago, and that the Mountaineers were only outpaced by one other school. Holgorsen also noted that there were no changes planned for the way in which WVU runs its practices, so everyone, including Chugs, should have the chance to who their abilities.

Heading into some of the live scrimmage work, Chugunov probably has the best arm strength of any of the quarterbacks, but that's just one part of the array of abilities that make up successful players at the position. Sills, who should be included in this redshirt freshman look, as he did more at receiver than behind center last year, will also have much to prove. One thing to watch there is his throwing motion, which wasn't the smoothest in the world a year ago.

NEWCOMERS

Cody Saunders played for a small school in the big pond of Florida high school football, so when he wasn’t ID’ed as one of the premier recruits in the state, many observers began tossing around the same old tired assessments: "Too small, no competition, no chance." Whether or not Saunders mounts a challenge to the starting quarterback job remains to be seen, and we certainly won’t see that answered this spring, but immediately dismissing a player for reasons such as the size of the school he played for is ridiculous – just as it would be for those making the step from small colleges to the NFL. There are plenty such players dotting pro rosters, and the same logic applies to the college level.

Saunders is first and foremost a competitor, and one that his team relied on in every game. He was clearly the leader of his high school team, and he produced in the clutch throughout his career. He has both running and passing skills, and is on campus for the spring semester.

That said, it would be a major surprise if Saunders did anything other than redshirt this year. There are simply too many players ahead of him at this point, so this spring, and the season that follows, is expected to be a learning experience for him. One sign to watch for though – if, despite a redshirt, he travels on road trips, that shows the coaching staff believes he has the ability to compete for playing time in 2017, and is getting him acclimated to the procedure on road trips so that won’t be a new issue next year.

HOW IT ALL FITS

Like no other position, observers and fans can latch on to a quarterback and insist that their guy is the best -- and then back him no matter what. That's sort of the nature of the most visible player on the squad, and one that's understandable given the importance of the spot, but it's also an approach that often leads to a discounting of evidence contrary to that personal conclusion. Perhaps there's a bit of that going on here, where predictions of various players grabbing the starting position run rampant. In the end, though, there's no doubt that Skyler Howard has a firm hold on WVU's quarterback position.

That Howard has to improve is without question. He needs to be more consistent and more accurate, especially on medium and deep balls where he tends to overstride, leading to overthrows. But there's no questioning his grasp of the offense or his competitive fire. He's earned the respect of teammates, and it would be a major surprise to see him yield the number one spot. 

Perhaps the most interesting competition to watch, outside of Chugunov's progression, is the use of Sills and Crest. Will one, or both, eventually make a full-time move to another offensive position? For Sills, at least during the spring, the answer is no, although he will get reps at wide receiver too. For Crest, it might be the time to see what he can do as a "slash" guy who could throw a couple of passes, but catch and run with the ball even more. In order for those skills to blossom, though, he and WVU have to commit to putting him in the backfield or in the slot. It's difficult to become a consistent threat at one position which bouncing between a couple.

Much of this may also depend on how Chugunov and Sills perform. If they are both equal or close to Crest's performance level at QB, then Crest could be more heavily utilized at another spot. The same could be true for Sills, who really shows promise as a wide receiver. However, during the spring, the entire group will get a chance to see what they do in full contact work against live defenses, and those results, while not setting a depth chart for the fall, will at least have a pecking order established when practices resume four months from now. The guess here is that it will be Howard-Chugunov-Crest\Sills, with one of the latter getting more work at his alternate position. However, we won't see such a determination made in the spring, and it won't be made without study of the entire spring football video library and what figures to be a good bit of discussion among the coaching staff.

NEWCOMER BIOS

Graduated high school early and enrolled at WVU for the start of the spring semester on Jan. 11, 2016 … three-year starter for coach Josh Wright at Arnold High … Florida All-State Class 5A honorable mention (2015) … finished his high selection school career with 4,753 passing yards, completing 345-of-601 passes with 37 touchdowns, while also rushing for 2,230 yards on 345 carries with 24 touchdowns … “The way the coaches approached me and talked with me about the offense and the way it fit, that was one of the big reasons I decided to commit,” Saunders said of his recruitment by West Virginia. “Everything they do in that offense, it just fits me. I am really thankful to them for the opportunity to play there.” … visited WVU in April … sat down with offensive coaches and broke down film on games, seeing similarities of what he did in high school … “We run a west coast style of offense at my high school, and we do it all,” Saunders said. “I throw from both in the pocket and on rollouts, and we run it a lot with zone reads, triple option and quarterback runs. Whatever it takes to win, that’s what we will do, and our coaches do a great job of getting us ready to play.” … completed 165-of-259 passes for 2,005 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2015 and rushed for 1,003 yards on 165 carries with 13 touchdowns … had one game with more than 300 yards passing, four games with more than 200 yards passing and six games with more than 100 yards rushing … top ground game came with 163 yards and two touchdowns in the season-opener against Florida State University High School (8/28) … went 20-of-25 for 301 passing yards and one touchdown, while also rushing for 182 yards and four touchdowns against Fort Walton Beach High School (9/4) … threw for 273 yards; three touchdowns on 18-of-28 passing against Milton High (11/6) … posts 40-yard dash times in the 4.6 range, and has shuttle times in the low 4.2s … shows elusiveness in the run game and solid decision-making skills when on the perimeter with the ball … will need to improve completion percentage to keep a rhythm passing attack going … has improved his accuracy and timing … watching his tape, one can see him check keys and change up his first option, and it’s that sort of ability that can really help in the communication and operation of Holgorsen’s offense … “The WVU fan base and the community, you just don’t get any better than that,” Saunders said. “The way they support the team and get behind everyone, that just really stands out.” … was the eighth commitment of the class … early enrollment should help him gain a grasp of the offense heading into the fall … doesn’t shy away from contact, and features a couple of very strong finishes to runs at the prep level … “I know that the game will be a lot faster in college, so I have to improve,” he said, showing confidence in his game while also displaying the desire to get better. “I just want to win this year, help my teammates and be the best QB I can be.” … starting quarterback in the 2015 FACA North/South Florida All-Star Game … FloridaHSFootball.com All-Panhandle honorable mention selection (2014) … a three-star recruit according to Scout, which also rates him as the 58th-best quarterback prospect in the country, the 18th best in the south and the sixth best in Florida … visited West Virginia during the Gold-Blue spring game … “The coaching staff was great and I couldn’t have asked for much more hospitality,” Saunders said. “The game was great, the facilities were great and the offensive scheme was great. The campus was great and definitely fit for students. A big topic of conversation was early enrolling because of my academics, which is definitely something I’m going to try to do. Everything was great.” … also offered by USF, FIU, Southern Miss and Georgia Southern.

WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen on Cody Saunders – “He is athletic. He is 6-foot-2, 205 pounds. When you look at him, he doesn’t look it, but he is. He has a live arm. He is nervous as hell right now. He doesn’t know anything. I haven’t had any time to work with him. He has good athleticism. He is bright eyed. He is happy to be here.”

WVU recruiting coordinator Ryan Dorchester on Cody Saunders – “Cody Saunders is a bigger version of Skyler (Howard). They have similar skills. Cody probably runs a little better. He threw for 2,000 yards this past year and ran for another 1,000. He was the only quarterback in Florida this year to do that. He really made his high school team pretty good. He gave them a chance. He gives us another young arm to put in the system, teach him and see what happens. He’s also really smart.”

WVU running back coach JaJuan Seider on Cody Saunders – “Tough kid. He has a lot of Skyler’s qualities, really competitive. He’s 6-foot-2. What’s impressive is that he works. He’s out 30-40 minutes before practice working the entire route tree, throwing the ball. He has the footwork, can make all the throws, drives the ball, but can hit the touch passes. He changes the ball velocity.”

Previously In The Series:

Defensive Line

Linebackers

Safeties

Cornerbacks

Specialists

Offensive Line

Wide Receivers

Running Backs

Tight Ends and Fullbacks


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