Learning Lessons

To no one's surprise, the development of the passing game lagged behind most other areas in West Virginia's spring football practice. Anytime a senior quarterback leaves, as Rasheed Marshall did following his excellent career, there are going to be rough spots as new players compete for the job. In addition to that, however, there is another factor that hindered the growth of the passing game this spring, and it's a big one – inexperience.

Teams breaking in a new QB often have experienced receivers to help lessen the pressure on the new signalcallers. Having a couple of proven wideouts that can be counted on to get open and catch the ball can serve as a huge security blanket for an unproven passer. By like token, a veteran QB can help new receivers look good by getting them into the right spots, providing extra coaching in the huddle, and running the offense efficiently.

However, the Mountaineers didn't have that luxury in the spring of 2005. QBs Dwayne Thompson and Pat White have never taken a snap from center in a game, while the receiving corps has combined career numbers that many passcatchers reach in one season. The learning process, occurring on both ends, was bound to take longer than normal to work through.

At least part of this problem can be laid at the feet of head coach Rich Rodriguez. Despite having a couple of games in 2004 in which his backups could have gotten some valuable time, Rodriguez chose to keep them on the bench. And while he has explained that decision with statements about "not feeling comfortable" about the games outcome, the fact remains that he has missed opportunities to get guys like Thompson, Rayshawn Bolden and Joe Hunter some solid time. Now, this year, the price is being paid.

Both quarterbacks on this year's spring roster know that there's still a long way to go before WVU can even come close to the passing game of a season ago (which wasn't overpowering to begin with), but each seems to have a different outlook on the problem. Returning junior Dwayne Thompson, who likely knows that he has to win the QB job in order to stay at the position, thinks that the inexperience on both ends of the passes is hurting.

"It's difficult. It's frustrating, but at the same time I look at the big picture," Thompson said following one scrimmage. "We have a lot of guys banged up, and we just moved Vaughn Rivers over to wide receiver, so it's pretty much like we are starting back at square one. And that's frustrating because the defense is pretty established, and they have things going on over there. It's like we are playing catch up. We just have to learn quick and move faster."

Redshirt freshman Pat White, who is obviously less comfortable in front of a crowd of microphones, doesn't admit to any frustration, probably for fear of offending older teammates. Instead, he puts it into a different perspective.

"Everybody is learning, and spring is the time for that," White said quietly. "It's a learning experience, so I don't think it's difficult."

In the next breath, however, White admits he is looking forward to the independent summer throwing sessions, which will be even more important than ever after the slow pace of progress this spring.

"I know we'll improve," was White's short, but confident assessment of what will happen over the summer.

While it's good to see (and hear) that sort of assuredness, the fact is that there's no magic potion for improvement. In the parlance of today, West Virginia is still a long way from "being on the same page" in its passing game, and the clock is ticking.

On the bright side, there will be an injection of talent and experience in the fall. The return of Adam Bednarik from shoulder surgery will give WVU a quarterback that has been through numerous practice sessions, and the only one that has seen game play at the QB spot. Bednarik is scheduled to begin throwing a football soon, and appears to be right on track for a healthy return to the field. Speedy newcomers at wide receiver, including Darius Reynaud, could also provide needed help.

However, it's still important to remember that these players, like the ones that went through the spring, haven't practiced together much, if at all. They don't have – all together now – experience in working together. That factor still stands as the major impediment to an effective passing attack – even more so than the selection of a starting quarterback.

BlueGoldNews Top Stories