"The nice thing about spring is that we practice at the same tempo, but you have a chance to really work with guys on technique and little things and can take time with each one," WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "You can see great improvement from the young players, especially ones in for their first spring. I tell our coaches, in three sessions, their first spring, the fall, then the next spring, you ought to have a pretty good idea of what they can do and how fast they can contribute."
That means freshmen like Quinton Andrews, Chris Bassler, Mike Dent, Ryan Dawson, Jake Figner, Tito Gonzales, Ovid Goulbourne, Johnny Holmes, Greg Isdaner and others will be nearing that time table. All are battling for positions, but nothing is expected to be set until the week before the Marshall game. The goal is to come out of spring with a rough two-deep – and even that could easily change in the fall when true freshman arrive.
"I could not give you a two-deep right now," Rodriguez said. "Certainly at the end of spring we will have a tentative one. We'll figure that out as it goes. You just want to know what guys have a chance to help you. Let's get better fundamentally and all that, then find the guys we can win with.
"It was a good offseason. Our players have made more strides and had more personal bests this offseason than any under Mike Barwis. That's four years. We like to have an eight-week cycle for strength and conditioning. January, February and March. A lot of it is how our guys approach workouts and practice. And how they approach the summer workout with the strength staff. They are a pretty good group regarding that. Last year they acted more mature than they were. Now we will have to see if they maintain that."
West Virginia has also managed to infuse young talent with veteran ability. Pat White and Steve Slaton become prominent players, while Darius Reynaud proved himself one of the best athletes on the field. Add in seniority where a team really needs it in experience along both lines, and the Mountaineers' depth might be the best it has been in any of Rodriguez's six springs.
Yet WVU also has gaping holes in the secondary, which was outplayed in the Sugar Bowl, and must find players for overlooked positions like long snapper, punter and holder. The first shots there will go to Bridgeport, W.Va. native Tim Lindsey, whose brother Donnie was also a snapper, No. 1-rated prospect Scott Kozlowski and Lewisburg, W.Va. native Travis McClintic, respectively. McClintic will try to replace the graduated George Shehl, a fellow state native that never mishandled a snap.
"He is one of those guys you miss after he was gone because he was 100 percent," Rodriguez said of Shehl. "He never screwed up. He wants to be the all-time holder for WVU. He wants one corner section in the Hall of Fame for all-time holders. And Scott Kozlowski will have the first shot (to punt). Pat McAfee said he would like a chance, too, but I'd rather not have one guy doing it all."
WVU has seven kickers on the roster, but just two – Kozlowski and Kash Kiefer – are punters. Rodriguez has stated that the Mountaineers will work on special teams more this season than last, when a lack of lineman hurt them in drills. That's an area in which many young guys can impress quickly, as linebacker Reed Williams did last season. He was originally slated to redshirt, but did not after showing better-than-expected speed and quickness in space.
"We have proven if a young guy has enough talent and can learn it, we will play him," Rodriguez said. "We have to prove ourselves all the time. Some of the guys we lost we multi-year starters. We lost four in the secondary. We should be hungry. You worry about losing the talent, but more than anything you worry about losing the senior leadership and experience. That senior class wasn't the biggest, but they led by personality. I can't tell you about this year's senior class. I won't be able to tell you have they will prepare, or what their leadership will be until the fall.
But our goal is to win the Big East. That has been the goal every year. If that is not their goal, then they are in the wrong program. I do have to explain to them that they will be viewed differently. In fact, I have sat them down several times after the bowl game, and even before, that people are watching them. They have to handle themselves the right way. I think they can."