Offensive Woes? Not To Worry

The headlines blare out from newspapers and websites on a regular basis: "Defense Dominates Again", "Offense Offensive" and other snippy sayings that proclaim the ineptitude of West Virginia's offense during 2006 spring football practice.

Those headers, and accompanying stories, serve only to set off the citizens of nation, and leads to dozens of threads discussing the woeful state of the offense. Speculations about quarterback changes, the disintegrating offensive line or the unproductive wide receiver spot flame the fires. It's almost as if the Mountaineers were on a three game losing streak or something.

While I always welcome discussion on the site, I'd like to point out that it's probably a bit too early to panic about the state of the offense. Several factors have combined to account for the less that stellar offensive performances to date – and they are items that will be either corrected or bypassed as fall practice gets underway and the season commences.

The first reason that the offense has struggled relates to the plays being run. During scrimmages and 11-on-11 work, there have been very few designed quarterback runs called by the first team, and the fact that he isn't running with the ball as much, other than on a few scrambles and rollouts, certainly puts a crimp in West Virginia's rushing game. The reasons for that are obvious – first, the coaches don't want to risk injury to Pat White, and second, they already know what he can do.

The same also goes for Steve Slaton, who has seen his work diminish a bit as the spring progressed. The need to see what players like Tyler Benoit and Jetavious Best can do, along with the need, like White, to avoid unnecessary physical pounding, combines to remove Slaton from the mix on occasion—something that's certainly not helpful to the offense. Add in the fact that White, dressed in a gold "no-contact" jersey for all practices to date, is whistled dead as soon as a defender gets within shouting distance, and the picture emerges of an offense that isn't exactly playing with all of its weapons loaded.

The second and third team quarterbacks, who have been live (subject to being hit and tackled) for much of the spring, are struggling to learn the offense, and are also playing with a number of inexperienced players around them. Any one mistake often dooms an offensive play to failure, or at least limits its chances of success, and there have been enough mistakes to fill a few hard drives worth of video clips this spring. Thus, the backups on offense have seen even less success than their "big brothers" to date.

The converse side of this point also comes into play – the fact that the defense appears to be very good – perhaps significantly better than a year ago. West Virginia goes three deep along the defensive front and two deep at linebacker, and there doesn't appear to be a great deal of difference between the first string and the backups on those units. Thus, no matter which players are getting looks during practice, there are some formidable playmakers lining up in the blue shirts worn by the defense – and they are making life tough for some of the less experienced players on the other side of the line.

While all of those points are fairly obvious, there's one more that's not apparent to those who only watch scrimmage action – which is to say, most observers. That item, which bubbles to the surface during one on one and small unit drills, is the fact that the offense wins their fair share, if not more, of those encounters.

Take last Saturday's "W" drills, which we wrote about recently. During those drills, the offense dominated. Defensive linemen made just a couple of tackles, and the linebackers didn't fare much better. On several occasions, the ballcarrier romped unmolested past all three defenders, who were often battling futilely against their offensive counterparts. That showed, at least to me, that WVU's offensive players have the talent to get the job done, but that they may just be a couple of steps behind in putting it all together, as the defense has done.

The same pattern has shown itself in skeleton passing drills, or inside run. The offense, like their defensive counterparts, has the ability to make plays. It's just a matter of getting 11 guys doing it consistently on every play that is holding it back.

Moreso than the defense, the offense depends on timing. While a defender can always make a great individual play to blow up an offensive possession, the offense more often depends on precise play from all eleven members to get the job done. Of course, there are exceptions (like Pat White creating a big gain off a broke play or aborted pass attempt) but for the most part, those types of situations don't present themselves in the spring. This is the time for the offense to find that cohesiveness, for the new players to get comfortable with the veterans and make reads in unison, and develop the teamwork that will result in victories this fall.

I don't mean be whistling past the graveyard here. There certainly are areas of concern to be addressed (offensive tackle and wide receiver are the biggest). WVU would like to know who its top three tackles and top four or five wideouts are going into the fall. (Coach Rod wants six wideouts, but that might be a stretch at this point.) But even if those goals aren't quite met by the time practice closes next Saturday, it won't mean disaster in the Mountaineer ranks. There will still be summer work, plus 20-odd practices in the fall before the season begins, and by that time I'm betting West Virginia will have a powerful offense to unleash.

So, feel free to discuss your picks for wide receiver, or opine about the best rotation for the offensive line. Just remember, it's nowhere near time to panic yet.

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