As always, not every question will need to have a 100% perfect answer in order for WVU to have a successful football season. No team ever perfectly aces its spring exams, and there are always lingering issues going into the fall. However, in order to challenge for the Big East title and a BCS bid, WVU will need to be able to provide good solutions to the majority of these areas of concern.
1) Will the offensive line be able to a) rebuild and b) effectively perform in the different styles demanded by the revamped offense?
That there's talent on the line is undeniable. Several players counted on to anchor the rebuilt front got experience last year, including Eric Jobe, Donny Barclay and Josh Jenkins. The key for this year's unit will be to begin to develop the cohesiveness that seemed lacking at times last year. The challenge will also include a search for the ability to power block in man-on-man schemes and wedge out defenders in short yardage situations. It's a lot to accomplish in one spring, and it's likely that these processes won't be finalized before the fall, if then. There's simply a lot of work to be done, and when replacing four starters along with identifying at least three backups is added on top ... it's a huge task. If assistant coach Dave Johnson is able to ID his top seven or so and get them working together by the second half of spring, then the Mountaineers would have made great progress.
2) Who will become a playmaker at wide receiver?
With all eyes on newcomer Logan Heastie, the pressure will be on him to perform quickly. However, the key to West Virginia's spring at this position is more likely to be Alric Arnett, who blossomed in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Arnett has the experience and ability to lead a young, but talented, group of receivers this year, but he needs to do so in performance on the field as well as in the locker room.
Heastie will get the jump of going through spring drills, but the absence of Bradley Starks (shoulder surgery) and Jock Sanders (suspension) means that this question probably can't be answered completely until fall. However, if Arnett can continue the growth he showed at the end of last year, the Mountaineers could have the building blocks in place for improved prodcutivity at wideout.
3)How will Jarrett Brown function in the retooled offensive scheme?
Jeff Mullen's additions to the system, which is designed to spread the ball to all areas of the field, looks tailor-made for Brown, who has the ability to gun the ball quickly to receivers in space. Brown can run it if need be, and West Virginia figures to keep a few zone reads in its system to keep defenses honest, but its in the passing game where Brown will make his mark. If WVU wideouts can create separation on a few deep routes and give him the chance to complete the intermediate pass as well, West Virginia figures to be very difficult to defend. Look for Brown to take command of the revised system and have a stellar year.
4) Will the defense be able to repeat its red zone stands of a year ago?
The hope is that it won't have to, because as the coaches point out, it means that teams are moving the ball far too much. WVU's 2008 defense was a gritty bunch that snuffed out many scoring chances from close range, but that's something that can't be counted on each year. Instead, West Virginia must be able to get third down stops and kill drives early on. Key to this is play in the secondary, where defensive backs often allowed just enough cushion and yardage to foes that kept drives alive. Both David Lockwood and Steve Dunlap are looking for better man-to-man coverage, which would allow for more pressure and less time for opposing quarterbacks on third down. There will be a great deal of work done this spring in order to find the defensive backs capable of doing this, but right now the jury is out.
5) Will the kickoff coverage woes be fixed?
No only does that aspect of the special teams need major attention, but so to will the punt and field goal teams, which lost their major weapon in Pat McAfee. The zany McAfee was one of West Virginia's best defenders as a punter last year, as he often pinned opponents deep and minimized returns. So, not only do the Mountaineers have to find a solution to its coverage problems, but they have to figure out a way to replace one of the best two-way kickers in WVU history. Look for this competition to spill over into the fall, as right now the competition appears to be open.