Depth, Not Dearth

West Virginia is deep at many positions, but might the most important spot on the field also be its deepest?

It is arguably the deepest position group on West Virginia's 2008 football team, made up of both young potential stars and proven veterans. The position group includes a pair of potential All-Americans (present and future), a bona fide star, and a player so versatile that by the time his career is over, he may have made a sizeable impact not only on this position, but another.

"You must be speaking of the offensive line," you might say as you read this.

Young potential stars and proven veterans? Check. Freshman Josh Jenkins and redshirt freshman Don Barclay certainly meet the former portion of that criteria, while seven players with starting experience certify the latter.

Potential All-Americans? Yep, the O-line has that too, with Ryan Stanchek and Greg Isdaner both likely to garner consideration. Stanchek also fits the bona fide star billing. As for the versatility, know that Barclay has the ability to play guard, tackle or center.

But alas, the offensive line is not the focus of this article.

"Oh, ok," you say. "Then you've gotta be talking about the linebackers."

With Reed Williams, Mortty Ivy and J.T. Thomas in that group, the above criteria is met, while senior John Holmes has had big games as both a linebacker and as a spur safety.

Actually, it's not the backers either. Instead, we're talking about the quarterbacks.

"I think Pat White, Jarrett Brown and Brad Starks are three quarterbacks who could play for a lot of teams in this country," said offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jeff Mullen this week. "Having three is a real comforting feeling. Most programs are striving to find one, a lot of programs are lucky to have two, and I think we have three."

While it is White, West Virginia's spectacular senior and Heisman hopeful, that draws the most attention (deservedly so), the presence of Brown and Starks waiting in the wings gives Mullen something of a peace of mind. Whereas coaches elsewhere in the country hold their breath hoping that nothing happens to their starter, Mullen is aware that in the event of an injury or anything else that takes White off the field, he at least has a couple of very viable options at his disposal.

The 40-year old playcaller's perspective has certainly changed since the first time he took the field with his players during spring drills. In that opening practice of spring, White was his only option. Starks, coming off a redshirt season, was familiarizing himself with a varsity playbook for the first time. Brown, then going through the NCAA Tournament as a reserve on the WVU basketball team, was thousands of miles away.

In the months since that time, however, both Brown and Starks have done their part to catch up to speed with Mullen's terminology and spin on the spread offense. And all the credit, says the coach, goes to them.

"I'm very happy," he said. "JB missed a lot of time with basketball. He did not go to our winter conditioning and missed the first week of spring practice, so he only had 10 of the 15. He was way behind.

"He is now in a situation where he grasps the offense; he understands what we're trying to do."

After getting his feet wet at quarterback for the first half of spring, Starks was moved to wide receiver in order to get his speed and athleticism on the field more often. Throughout fall camp, Starks has continued to work at receiver. After a hamstring injury to Brown in last weekend's scrimmage, though, Starks was called back to his former dwellings under center. He didn't miss a beat.

"Bradley Starks is a very sharp kid," Mullen explained. "For him to go 10 straight days at wide receiver – he had some meeting time and he had some individual work (at quarterback) – but for him to come into the situation, go six for eight in the scrimmage, manage the offense, know where to go and not turn the ball over, I was very encouraged with that as well."

A minor injury of his own has limited Starks's ability to go all-out at receiver this week. However, instead of dressing in red and taking up residence at "Muscle Beach" with a host of other injured players, Starks has been taking reps at quarterback.

"What we're doing right now is – because he's in a situation where he can't run full speed – he can definitely play quarterback," Mullen said. "We're stealing minutes right now, getting him as many reps as we can at quarterback so that when he's 100 percent he can go back out to Coach Galloway. Then, we'll feel really good about him as a backup quarterback."

Call it making lemons out of lemonade. Or, to be more accurate, call it preparing the unprepared. With White's well-known exploits ready for a fourth season, Brown's grasp of the offense and Starks familiarizing himself more and more every day at not just one, but two positions, the most popular and important position on the field just might be West Virginia's deepest.

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