Unique Viewpoint

One of the main points of conversation during West Virginia's spring football practice – and discussion points of the unfolding summer – is the change in the Mountaineer passing attack. One player on the roster is uniquely suited to analyze them.

That, of course, is wide receiver/backup quarterback Bradley Starks, who has seen the changes and modifications from the perspective of both positions. While he didn't throw the ball during spring drills as he recovered from off-season shoulder surgery, Starks did continue to attend some quarterback meetings and keep his hand in that position as much as possible. He also was a full contact participant at wideout, so he has seen the changes as they were implemented from every possible angle.

Like any spring topic that is seized upon by the public at large, there was, perhaps, a bit too much emphasis put on the tweaks and changes in the passing game. Some of them were installed as soon as Jeff Mullen began to overhaul the offense a year ago, and certainly became evident as the Mountaineers went through the 2008 season. They culminated in the great passing performance put on by Pat White and the receiving corps in WVU's bowl win over North Carolina. Others were implemented and worked on during the spring to take advantage of Jarrett Brown's natural passing skills. However, according to Starks, it wasn't as if the entire old passing scheme was junked.

"It's not that much different from what we were running last year," Starks said after the conclusion of spring drills. "It's just that we are more confident in what we are running. We know what we need to do against certain coverages or blitzes. I think it's more a matter of the offense progressing."

While WVU certainly isn't going to become the 1970s Oakland Raiders with Daryle Lamonica tossing bombs with the regularity of a B-52, the Mountaineers will take some more shots downfield with Brown at the controls. There will also be more medium range passes, and more work in the middle of the field as well. It's an extension of the philosophy of the running game, which is designed to stretch the field horizontally. WVU's passing goal will be to do the same thing vertically – to force the defense to cover every area of the field against the pass.

In order to do that, however, quarterbacks and receivers have to be on the fabled "same page". They have to make reads correctly and simultaneously, and execute together. If that goal is achieved, any passing attack is very difficult to stop – but getting to that level of play is a difficult challenge in and of itself. However, Starks sees evidence of that in West Virginia's spring work.

"I think there's more confidence in our wide receivers and in running our routes," he said of the biggest changes he saw over the spring. "We've got a solid year under our belts now, and we know the offense. I think that alone has given us a lot better concept of what we are trying to do. We know the scheme better and I think it's going to be exciting this year."

Changes in personnel will also give WVU's offense a different look, of course. With White gone, Brown's elevation not only might change the run/pass ratio, but also the way in which some plays wind up.

"With Pat, he always kept the play alive, and you knew he could run it," Starks said. "Jarrett can move and keep it alive too, but you know the play is not over [as a wide receiver] because he can always pull up and throw it. With him back there, you know there's always the possibility of the scramble drill and beating someone one on one."

While it's tough to predict how the tweaks in WVU's passing game will play out against foes on the field this fall, the feeling from Brown, as well as the receiving corps, is that the Mountaineers will be able to put more pressure on opposing pass defenses, and take advantage of teams that try to load up against the run. If that is the case, West Virginia's offense could take a big step toward the main goal, which is the ability to attack what the defense gives it.

RIFLE REPORTS

Starks is rehabbing his shoulder and beginning to throw again, and hopes to be fully ready to throw and perform all quarterback duties by the start of fall camp. While his primary position is slot receiver, he will likely be the backup quarterback should Brown suffer any missed time, at least going into the season. The progression of others, most notably Eugene Smith, could possibly change that as the season progresses, but early on Starks figures to be the #2 man on the depth chart.


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