Talent galore needs a bit more

Though West Virginia's quarterback position seems all but assured to fans, Pat White and Rich Rodriguez will say otherwise. The former notes that his four competitors all have qualities he lacks, while the latter knows that his young talent will be tested this fall.

Rodriguez said that most of the Big East teams West Virginia played were young last season. While that allowed the 11-1 Mountaineers to develop players like White and Steve Slaton without the typical rebuilding season, it also means that WVU's starter – most likely White – this year will see more complex defenses and looks other than the basic sets of yesteryear.

"He probably needs to work on recognizing how defenses are trying to play him and knowing how to attack them," Rodriguez said of White. "He needs to know how teams are going to try to defend us and how to attack them not with our running game, but the passing game. Teams are going to load up the box and say that they are not going to let Steve Slaton or Owen Schmitt beat them. They'll force us to pitch and catch and say ‘Beat us.' And he'll have to."

West Virginia is not yet throwing a series of looks at White because it just started spring drills and is breaking in a new secondary. The defense controlled much of Saturday's scrimmage, while the offense is still playing its typical catch-up game. If White can't handle the learning curve, or proves lacking there (not that he is anticipated to struggle to do so), there are four other quarterbacks who can step in and play immediately.

Adam Bednarik, whose throwing arm has not yet healed fully and might need season-ending surgery, has solid game experience. He is probably the most qualified for immediate duty, but could miss the year depending upon his post-spring diagnosis. Jarrett Brown is the biggest of the lot, a 6-3, 210-pounder that plays bigger but doesn't have the upfield burst of White, or his ability to escape. He does throw the best deep ball, and has a cannon for an arm.

T. J. Mitchell is built like White and has a crisp throw and decent release and knowledge of the offense. Receiver Dwayne Thompson could also play in an emergency situation. And Nate Sowers, of Martinsburg, W.Va., has impressed and surprised the most with his straight-ahead speed.

"Nate has done a good job," Rodriguez said. "We knew he could run pretty well, but he is one of the fastest guys on the team. Now, he is making some freshman mistakes, just like Jarrett Brown and T. J. Mitchell. But with Adam's situation (Bednarik), we are gonna need somebody to step up and be ready to contribute there, and I don't know who that is going to be.

"They have a grasp on what we are trying to do, but not like they need to have. The spring is probably as important for them as anybody. They have to learn more than anybody else. They still have a long way to go."

The same could be said for all the quarterbacks. Thought White quarterbacked the only major bowl win in Mountaineer history, he is still very inexperienced in terms of coverage reading, dissecting defenses and fronts, and pure practice time before starting. Every starting quarterback that originally signed with WVU back to Major Harris (Darren Studstill, Chad Johnston, Marc Bulger, Brad Lewis and Rasheed Marshall) had more experience and practice time than White did upon their first start. Jake Kelchner split time with White just one year into the program, but he signed with Notre Dame out of Berwick (Pa.) High.

"They are all athletic, they can all get the job done," White said of the other quarterbacks. "They are still pushing me. I am in the film room myself studying, learning a lot. I think I have gotten stronger and am smarter."

Any faster, or is that not possible?

"Yeah, hopefully. I think I am faster," White said.

Rodriguez said he was anxious to see how all the younger players improve. But, as always, he will keep an especially close eye on the quarterbacks. West Virginia has enough skill there, but it needs numbers because of its offense and the inevitability of contact at the position. The other players have noticed the different variables of the signal callers, none more so than former tailback Pernell Williams, who has taken handoffs from Bednarik, White and Mitchell and now practices on the other side of the ball, at defensive back, against them now.

"Pat is the next Vick, maybe," Williams said in giving a rundown of the abilities of each. "He is in a league of his own. He is squiggly. Jarrett can move and is mobile and shifty while running and is just bigger than everybody. All are very gifted quarterbacks. But Jarrett is just bigger than everyone. He is a big guy coming at you.

"Nate can run and throw it on the run. T.J. has a nice little rocket on him, and nice tight ball. And Adam is a nice overall quarterback. They all can play. It is a nice problem to have, I guess. But it is tough playing al of them."

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