Making the Switch

Just about every sports fan is a coach or a general manager when it comes to making observations and sharing opinions about playing positions. Have a logjam at one spot? Simple – move one of the players elsewhere where he might better compete and help the team.

However, such snap decisions don't take into account many other aspects of the potential move – ones that the players and real coaches involved must think about.

On a football team, with its myriad positions, player shuffling occurs on a fairly frequent basis. However, there is more that goes into a move than simply looking at a depth chart and slotting players into holes. Pulling a player from his current position can be damaging to his long-term ability at his original spot, and might impede the progress he is making there. While it's a simple matter to say, "You can always move him back," the reality is that bouncing back and forth can keep a player from reaching his full potential at a position.

Evidence of such moves abounds. At West Virginia, Jerry Porter might have been the poster child for jumping spots. Quarterback, wide receiver, defensive back – Porter played them all, filling needs for WVU's team. Those switches, however, kept him from learning everything he could about one position, and certainly hampered him early on in his NFL career. That he was able to overcome that and carve a spot for himself in the pros speaks to his talent and desire, but who knows what he might have achieved had he been able to play wide receiver for his entire collegiate stay?

Building that experience base is important everywhere, even in some of the less noticed positions. Although some might look at the on the offensive and defensive lines as interchangeable, the fact is that there are very different skill sets and techniques being taught on the opposite sides of the ball. Certainly, some players are capable of moving back and forth, but in most cases they have a preference, not to mention an aptitude, for one over the other. Need for depth certainly comes into play when making those decisions, but it's not just as simple as sending a player over to the other group and throwing him into action.

Another, even more important, aspect of a change is the mental angle. How does a player react to being moved? Does he view it as a demotion – that he can't cut it at his current spot? If he moves back, will he have the right mindset? Can he pull double duty?

That last brings us to WVU quarterback/wide receiver Bradley Starks, who is attempting to answer all of those questions with a positive outlook. While keeping his hands in the mix as the third quarterback behind Patrick White and Jarrett Brown, Starks' skills with the ball were too tempting for Mountaineer coaches Bill Stewart, Jeff Mullen and Lonnie Galloway to ignore. Thus, Starks became the focal point of fan attention when he made several nice catches and dazzling runs after receptions at wideout this past spring.

Left unasked, however, were questions about Starks' thoughts to the move. Can he stay in the mix at the quarterback position enough to keep learning and build the base of experience that will be necessary when he challenges for the starting job in 2010, or for the backup spot next season? How does he approach the move mentally?

"I think it's a tough mental change going from quarterback, where you have to be the one composed all the time, the one who is calming them down and helping them through things, to going to wide receiver, where you have to have that mentality where you have to be aggressive, where you have to go to the ball and attack and fight," Starks said. "From that aspect, it's a mental change.

"I am not worried about moving back to quarterback," he continued, noting that he doesn't foresee being labeled as a wideout and dropping from the quarterback depth chart. "The coaches keep talking to me and tell me that I will be right back there in the fall. But as far as helping the team out, wide receiver is where I am going to be for now. I'd rather be there and on the field than sitting on the bench for two years."

To that end, the redshirt freshman will keep his hands in both positions over the summer.

"I'll practice both positions over the summer. The coaches want me to split time, so I can keep my skills at both spots intact, and also in case something happens at quarterback. It's not hard, because everyone on the offense is cool with it. Going from the QB room to the wide receiver room isn't any different. It's just more about the style of play."

The latter is certainly a concern, as White, the starter, has all or significant parts of games during his two and one-half years as WVU's man at the helm. Although the Mountaineer coaching staff is trying to implement some changes to lessen the pounding White takes, the fact remains that he is WVU's most dangerous runner, and he has to carry the ball for the West Virginia offense to remain high-powered. Thus, the specter of Starks back at quarterback is a real one for the team in 2008.

Once fall practice begins, Starks will again be running a shuttle between the position meeting rooms in order to keep up with both. While he might spend more time in the receiver room if the bulk of his practice time on the field was spent with the pass catchers, he will still need to keep his hands on the pulse of things in the quarterback enclave.

"I don't have anyone to take notes for me," Starks laughed as he described the challenges of film study and meetings with two different groups. "Depending on the day, I might split time with each coach. I just have to play smart and know how to manage my time. It's kind of tough, but I will manage to get through it."

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