Offensive Questions

The 2007 season just might be the most anticipated in Mountaineer history. With fall camp all set to open on Saturday afternoon, the season opener against Western Michigan is less than a month away. Despite all the hype, there are plenty of questions on both sides of the ball. In the first installment of this two part series, we'll take a look at the West Virginia offense.

Before we get to our questions, let's get one thing straight: for all intents and purposes, this could once again be one of the most explosive offenses in school history. With the returning quartet of quarterback Pat White, running back Steve Slaton, receiver Darius Reynaud, and fullback/tight end Owen Schmitt, the Mountaineer offense is again stockpiled with weapons.

Although those four players are immensely talented, there are still plenty of questions to ponder as we head into fall camp.

QUESTION #1: How will the new members of the offensive coaching staff fit in?

This first question is something that Rich Rodriguez has seldom had to deal with in his first six seasons as head coach. After the departure of three assistants over the winter, Rodriguez completely re-shuffled his offensive staff.

Former quarterbacks coach Bill Stewart is now coaching the tight ends – filling a void left by the departure of Herb Hand to Tulsa – and holds the additional title of associate head coach. In his place, former Glenville State quarterback and South Florida offensive coordinator Rod Smith has returned to the Mountain State to coach West Virginia's quarterbacks.

Tony Dews, who spent time in Morgantown as a graduate assistant under Don Nehlen, is back as well, taking the place of receivers coach Butch Jones (now head coach at Central Michigan). Though Jones was just on the job in Morgantown for two seasons, he improved a Mountaineer receiving corps that had for the most part underperformed in Rodriguez's first four seasons.

Finally, former Florida State offensive lineman Greg Frey takes over for the fiery Rick Trickett, who has since moved on to Florida State. For West Virginia's power spread to work as well as it has in the past, it will take another great effort up front.

All three of these coaches were around to help out with spring drills, but fall camp is a completely different animal. It will be interesting to see how they adjust over the next few weeks.

QUESTION #2: Who will back up Steve Slaton at running back?

Don't be alarmed if this question looks familiar. It was asked repeatedly last fall, and throughout the regular season and spring too.

In the Gator Bowl win over Georgia Tech, fullback Owen Schmitt proved he could handle the load against one of the toughest defenses in the nation. While there's no doubt that Schmitt could spell Slaton when needed, the big man has also added the additional duties of playing tight end to his ever-versatile role.

Second-year players such as Ed Collington and Eddie Davis will likely get the first crack to be Slaton's understudy, but the name many Mountaineer fans will be anxious to hear about is that of five-star recruit Noel Devine. Still, it's unrealistic to believe that Devine will pick up the offense right off the bat. Even Slaton – an All-American and Heisman Trophy candidate – needed about half of a season to understand the main concepts of Rodriguez's complex scheme and learn how to read and follow his blocks.

This is a question that likely won't be answered within the first two weeks of practice.

QUESTION #3: Who will emerge at wide receiver?

With the exception of Reynaud, the Mountaineers have virtually no one at receiver who has been through the battles week in and week out at the highest level of college football.

Though hardly anybody has mentioned it, West Virginia must find someone to fill the role of departed receiver Brandon Myles, who emerged as a viable deep threat in his senior season. Junior Tito Gonzales showed flashes of promise at times last season, as did 6-foot-8 sophomore Wes Lyons. Gonzales and Lyons in particular will be watched closely in camp as they attempt to fill a void for the Mountaineer offense.

New wide receivers coach Dews will have plenty on his plate with this unit for his first fall camp.

QUESTION #4: What will the role be of Jarrett Brown?

Against Rutgers in the regular season finale, Brown showcased his talent filling in for an injured Pat White as he led the Mountaineers to their biggest win of the 2006 campaign. With White fully healed from the various bumps and bruises he suffered throughout the season, Brown will again be relegated to the bench for a majority of the year…or will he?

Over the past several years, Rodriguez has always made it a point to get his best 11 players on the field, regardless of their position. The West Palm Beach, Fla. native should certainly be considered amongst the best 11 offensive players on the team, but will the head coach risk injury to a proven winner just to get him on the field? And if he does get on the field, where will he line up?

It is hard to imagine Brown only getting mop-up duty for the second year in a row.

QUESTION #5: How long will it take for the offensive line to gel?

Perhaps this is the most important question facing the Mountaineer offense, given the dominant success the running game has seen in recent years. Though Frey is one of the new guys in town, he certainly won't be greeted with a bare cupboard. The o-line returns starting tackles Ryan Stanchek and Jake Figner, with the former being named to the Outland Trophy watch list. Sophomore guard Greg Isdaner, who started the final 12 games of the 2006 season should be good to go after sitting out the spring recovering from shoulder surgery.

That leaves two holes to fill on the line. In this case, the holes just to happen to be vacated by two of the best linemen in school history. Guard Jeremy Sheffey was more or less a four-year starter, and left West Virginia as a first team all-Big East selection. (Sheffey is now in camp with the San Diego Chargers). Center Dan Mozes – also a four-year starter – left West Virginia as a unanimous All-America selection and won the Rimington Trophy as college football's top center last season.

Junior Mike Dent is poised to take over for Mozes at center, and showed in the spring that he is more than capable of handling the load. At guard, junior John Bradshaw and redshirt freshman Eric Rodemoyer will likely battle it out for the final starting spot. If another tackle makes a push for playing time, Stanchek could always slide back down to a guard position as well.

The return of three starters (led by Stanchek) should let Mountaineer fans rest easy knowing that the holes will be open for Slaton and White. What we've seen in recent years is that once the offensive line starts to click, stopping the rushing yards from piling up becomes nearly impossible.

Will it take longer to get going with a new coach on board? We'll find out soon enough.

Up next, we'll address five questions surrounding the Mountaineer defense.

Also, we'd love to read your take on these questions and more as fall camp begins. Log on to our BlueGoldNews.com forums to tell us what you think.


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