Limited Numbers A Concern At Spring Drills

Ask most Mountaineer fans about the quarterback battle, and you'll likely get a debate about the relative merits of Rasheed Marshall and Danny Embick as they compete for the starting position at WVU this fall.

Ask quarterback coach Bill Stewart, however, and you are likely to get a much different response – one that focuses on the battle to get enough throws out of his available arms.

With the WVU offense running at a quicker pace than most, the number of plays and repetitions that the Mountaineers run off during a typical practice can easily exceed 200. And that's just in scrimmage and skeleton situations. It doesn't include warm-ups and individual drills where the QBs will throw every route in the offense to every receiver. Then do it again. And again. And again.

Most teams will have at least five QBs on the roster to handle such a workload, but due to graduation and position transfers, West Virginia has only three QBs available for spring practice. Under that constraint, Stewart has been forced to carefully monitor the number of throws his charges are making. While that's an understandable precaution, it has far reaching ramifications for the rest of the team, according to Stewart.

"It's affected us a bunch. We've had to gear down a little bit. We have to slow the reps down a little bit, and we don't like to do that. We don't want to slow down. Those are some of the growing pains that you go through, and it happens every spring. When you have 18 or 20 graduating seniors, your numbers are going to be down."

Stewart gave Embick the day off last Wednesday, and as a result all of the throwing fell to Rasheed Marshall and walk-on Pat Morrison, who Stewart is quick to praise as "zinging the ball around pretty good". With only two QBs throwing, WVU was been unable to work on the passing offense as much as they would like.

It's not only the shallow pool at quarterback that has caused problems. Stewart notes that "we're only about 2 1/2 deep" at receiver, rather than the normal four. The limited number of receivers means that they are getting enough balls thrown their way. However, the low number of QBs and wideouts combined means that it's more difficult for the offense to run enough plays to work on what they want as well as provide enough opposition for the defense. That's a balancing act that will continue throughout the spring.

"We've thrown a lot of footballs over the past few days," Stewart said. "We have to be careful not to overwork anyone."

WVU does have two former quarterbacks on the roster in the form of Scott Beresford and Marlon Burnette. However, both were moved to wide receiver last season, and with the depleted receiver numbers this spring they are needed at that position just as much, if not more, than they are at QB. There's also a fairness issue that the coaches take into consideration for those players.

"Those guys are not going to be our quarterbacks, so we wanted to put them in a place where they had a chance to compete and get on the field," Stewart said. "If they are going to have a chance to play, it's going to be on wide receiver or on special teams, so it wouldn't be fair to put them back there where they don't have a chance to compete."

Making the switch from quarterback to wide receiver isn't the easiest jump in the world, as Burnette discovered recently when he pulled a hamstring, which seems to be the injury du jour of the spring.

"We do an awful lot of running," Stewart noted of the wide receivers. "When you come over from a position like quarterback, that's a shock to your body. They have to get adjusted to that."

Stewart, like most Mountaineer fans, is looking ahead longingly to the fall, when his quarterback numbers will be augmented by the arrival of junior college transfer Charles Hales and freshman Thompson. The freshman class will also include as many as five new wide receivers, depending on eligibility issues.

"We signed some good ones," Stewart said of the freshman class. "We just have to wait until they get here."

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