From Dearth To Depth

Last year the Mountaineer offense was handicapped in its playcalling due to depth issues at quarterback, but that won't be the case in 2004.

During the 2003 season, West Virginia's depth chart at quarterback consisted of one experienced player, one talented but inxperienced player, and a freshman taking a cram course to learn the system. And while Rasheed Marshall, Charles Hales and Adam Bednarik were (and are) a talented trio, the overall lack of experience caused the Mountaineer coaching staff to try and limit Marshall's exposure to injury. That was largely in part to the desire to preserve Adam Bednarik's redshirt season, and to keep from having to play a true freshman at the vital QB spot.

In addition to keeping their fingers crossed and rubbing lucky charms, the Mountaineer coaches did their best to protect Marshall by limiting his running opportunities and figuring out other ways to advance the ball.

"We couldn't run Rasheed nearly as much as we wanted to last year," observed quarterbacks coach Bill Stewart. "He went from leading the Big East and setting the alltime single-season QB rushing record (666 yards and 13 TDs, breaking Michael Vick's record) to running for 303 yards last year.

"That wasn't dumb coaching, that was scared coaching," the veteran coach continued. "I was afraid to call the option. I'd tell Rich 'We better not run him' or 'We'd better not bootleg him'. But now, we are going to throw caution to the wind. Our quarterbacks are going to run the football. Rasheed, or Charles, or whoever is in there, is going to run the football. We're going to make them a real threat."

The return to complete use of the Mountaineer offensive style (i.e., running the quarterback) is in direct relationship to the bolstering of the WVU depth chart. Hales received valuable experience last year in several games, and engineered West Virginia's win over Boston College, while Bednarik, although preserving his redshirt, advanced quickly as he picked up the WVU attack with great speed. Add in Dwayne Thompson, who had a very good second half of spring practice, and Stewart now believes the Mountaineers have four quarterbacks they can win with.

When asked if he feels he deserves these blessings after going through a year of deprivation, Stewart laughs at the thought. However, he does allow that 2003 was a strenuous year for him as he tried to manage his small group of players.

"Last year was as touchy of a year as I ever coached. We just couldn't do everything we wanted to do," Stewart related. "Not that we were drastically different, but we're a quarterback running team, and we just couldn't do it. That killed us in a couple of games when we really needed it."

Forced to abandon part of the offense, WVU's coaching staff turned to other players, most notably the superback. However, this season, the roles are reversed.

"Some games we didn't need the QB running, because we won them other ways and using other weapons, but we're going to need it this year," Stewart observed. "We don't have Quincy and Avon. We're untested there at running back. So we're going to turn them loose at quarterback and let it all happen."

Stewart is also charged with beginning to prepare incoming freshman Patrick White, and next year will repeat the process with T. J. Mitchell, who is slated to play this season at Hargrave Academy. Although fans' expectations are high for those players, Stewart isn't about to rush them or try to push them past players who are, in his mind, solid performers.

"The young guys, we just want them to learn how to get into every drill, and have them watch and emulate the older guys," Stewart said. "You can't get a freshman ready this early - you just don't have the time. So, we have them watch, and study, and learn."

Of course, the learning process isn't a one-way, one-direction procedure from coach to player. The veteran QBs also participate. In some ways, that teaching is even better, because it comes from guys who are on the field. Stewart also believes that the veterans get benefit from helping the rookies out.

"You learn by teaching," said Stewart, a former history teacher himself. "The greatest tool is not only to watch people and emulate them, but to have people watch you. You get better by trying to be polished and by showing the young guys what to do just as much as you do from practicing yourself. It all goes hand in hand.

"Rasheed and Charles did a great job of that with Adam and Dwayne, and I expect them to pass it along to Patrick and T.J. I am the luckiest coach in America to have the guys I'm working with. We are well stocked, and we have a good plan. Things will work out, like they always do. We have two veteran players in Rasheed and Charles, and some great younger players too."

Suffice it to say that the future, which Stewart was anxiously looking to a year ago, is now for the Mountaineer quarterback brigade.

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