"We've discussed every player on the team, identified what they need to work on and where they are," said Rodriguez of his busy schedule since last Saturday's Gold-Blue Game. ‘We have a good idea of where we are and what we need to work on going into the fall, but we don't have a definite depth chart yet. By the first two weeks of August we will have a pretty good feel of our best players and how to get them on the field."
While that task is still a work in progress, Rodriguez hopes to have the top 15 or so players on each side of the ball ID'd and ready to slot into positions on the field by the end of week two of fall camp. While there are a number of positions with big question marks still hanging over them, the glamour spot, quarterback, is uppermost on everyone's minds.
"We have a lot of QB candidates," Rodriguez admitted when it was pointed out that seven signal callers could be battling for the starting job in the fall. "Adam Bednarik was out for the spring, but we expect him to battle for job. We talked with the athletic trainers today, and he's right on if not ahead of schedule. By the end of May, he should be released to throw. We may limit his throws early on, but by the time August gets here he should be 100% and ready to go.
"Pat White made great strides this spring," the fifth-year head coach continued. "Sometimes when guys get into games, they perform better, and the spring game was good for him. It was the best he had performed by far. The three guys we signed (T. J. Mitchell, Nathan Sowers and Jarrett Brown), you wonder how fast they can learn. That will be the toughest thing for them. I never want to discount any true freshman, because you don't know how fast they can learn."
That leaves Dwayne Thompson and J.R. House. Rodriguez hinted that the multi-talented Thompson could be looking at a position change again, despite Thompson's avowed desire to concentrate on quarterback over the summer.
"Dwayne made improvements," Rodriguez said, "andI will be talking with him today. He may have to help us again at wide receiver. J.R.'s biggest thing is, will he be able to rehab his shoulder in time? That's a big unknown."
Despite the crowded field, and no clear frontrunner, Rodriguez believes the Mountaineers will have a solid one-two combination in four months' time.
"I know quarterback is on everyone's mind, but I'm confident we'll have at least two QBs ready to go on Sept. 4."
One position Rodriguez isn't so sanguine about is wide receiver. The move of Vaughn Rivers to that position helped a bit, but West Virginia is still miles (Myles?) away from even a respectable passcatching corps.
"The quarterback spot will be challenging, but I might be even more concerned with the receiver position. Brandon Myles is having hernia surgery (that is scheduled for the first week of May) and I couldn't name you a starting wide receiver right now. We need to develop 5-6 reliable receivers, and we will probably have to rely on newcomers to give us immediate help."
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With the lack of numbers outside, Rodriguez may look to depth at running back and tailback to help fill out West Virginia's spread attack. A couple of wrinkles, including playing more running backs in the slot, could be in evidence this fall.
"Jason Colson is still a tailback," the Grant Town, W. Va. native said in response to a question about moving him to slot receiver. "Really, in the first 7-8 years of this offense, the slot receiver was a running back that we lined up out there. Some of the new running backs will play both spots, which means that they will probably catch more passes. It just makes more sense to play them and move them around a little bit with the depth we have. There's a lot we can do with our scheme in that regard. If they are not behind center, then we want to get them somewhere on the field."
Among the newcomers at running back, speedster Steve Slaton would seem particularly suited to that use. Rodriguez obviously doesn't want to get away from the three- and four-wide sets that are the staple of his attack, but he knows he has to mold his offense around the players he has.
"We have to run our system, but we also have to get our best guys on the field," he explained with obvious concern as he contemplates just how to best achieve that goal. "We may not run as much spread stuff, or maybe we will put another running back or flex a tight end out there. That's something we haven't done a lot of, but we have to have a plan to go both ways."
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Other changes in philosophy, scheme or both could appear in the use of the fullback. The rise of Owen Schmitt as not only a rough and tumble blocker but also as a physical ball carrier has given Rodriguez a few more options in the backfield.
"We've used our fullbacks in the past, but just don't hand the ball to them," Rodriguez observed. "Schmitt gives us a little more comfortable feeling that our fullback can be a weapon carrying the ball." Rodriguez went on to joke that ‘Everyone's been telling me that for years', but it seems clear that Schmitt will have a role with the pigskin in his hands.
"Our fullback will play and be a blocker, but Owen gives us some running back skills as well. He's good enough to be one of the two running backs next to the quarterback in shotgun. As far as featuring the fullback, I don't see that happening, but we feel comfortable giving him the ball."