Spring Assessments

Perhaps it's dangerous to try to extrapolate too much from the performances of starters against back-ups. But the way the WVU offense performed in its annual Gold-Blue Game last Friday night was encouraging to coordinator Jeff Mullen.

In the eyes of the assistant coach, beginning his third full season in Morgantown, the 38 points, 331 yards of offense, solid balance of rushing and passing yards and lack of costly miscues from his first-team offense was a good way to end a spring practice period that, to be sure, wasn't always so smooth.

"(Spring was) up and down, and understandably so," conceded Mullen. "You know, I hope the players aren't watching this, because we'll never tell them that. We don't want the up and down."

"But when you're throwing in the younger kids and the new guys and you're dealing with a lack of depth, you're going to have that at times. It was a wonderful feeling to finish strong. I think they played very well tonight. It was fun to see."

While depth was an issue heading into the spring at several positions, Mullen seemed sufficiently pleased at the progress made in at least two areas of the offense: running back; and, perhaps in a bit of a surprise, quarterback.

The former was almost to be expected, as talented rushers Shawne Alston (eight carries, 51 yards and a touchdown in the spring game) and Daquan Hargrett made a name for themselves in what was already a relatively crowded backfield.

"I want to give (rising senior running back) Noel (Devine) as many touches as he can get," Mullen emphasized. "As many touches as his frame and his body can handle next fall, I want to give to him. Having said that, Shawne Alston is a wonderful change of pace back."

"He gets up in there and falls for two or three, a lot like a Ryan Clarke in the short-yardage situations. When you add Shawne and Ryan at the same time, that's a lot of meat in there."

Despite a relatively quiet spring game (nine carries, 18 yards as he flip-flopped between the Gold and Blue squads) Hargrett showed his ability to potentially give Devine a rest if he needs it, adding another speedy scat-back to a roster seemingly filled with them.

"Daquan Hargrett is very Noel Devine-like in his size, stature and skill-set," Mullen said. "So he adds instant depth. Then, of course, we have that wild-card of Jock Sanders and Tavon Austin who can play that position as well. Having said that, Noel is our guy. But it's nice to know we can do those things if we need to."

But the signal-caller spot? Few could have expected Mullen to feel this good coming out of a spring in which the lone quarterback who returns to the team with the experience of having taken snaps (Geno Smith) was recuperating from an injury and, thus, couldn't take a single snap in full-scale, 11-on-11 drills.

The reason Mullen is confident in that spot now is simple: the vastly improved play of Coley White throughout spring.

Even though the offensive coordinator made clear that White will still ultimately make his move to a receiver slot this fall, he acknowledged he can rest easier knowing he doesn't necessarily have to rely on a pair of (albeit talented) incoming true freshmen to back up Smith if something goes wrong.

"We had what I felt was decent depth going into the fall with two freshmen coming in," said Mullen. "But after (the spring game), I feel the more I think, the adjective might be tremendous depth at quarterback."

"Of course the jury is out. With two freshmen, you never know. But I think we feel very good about them. We'll have to look at them in the fall, and Coley understands that -- and what a wonderful human being and a team player he is to allow us to take that look."

To that end, White will continue to be that team player this summer, repping at quarterback in the team's player-led 7-on-7 drills during conditioning until those freshmen (Barry Brunetti and Jeremy Johnson) arrive on campus. Then, he will attempt to make the switch to receiver.

"The beautiful thing is, at quarterback, they have to know all the routes," Mullen said. "The things he's going to (be) hurt (by) early on is knowing the techniques of a wide receiver."

"But Coley's looking forward to the challenge. He's looking forward to being a dual (threat), a ‘slash'. Anything he can do to help the Mountaineers win a football game, Coley White wants to be a part of."

Of course, there are still reasons for concern heading into fall for the offense. While line play seems to be somewhat improved, there is still much work to be done there, especially as the unit tries to identify (and then break in) a new starting right tackle.

Wide receiver depth has been perilously thin, and incoming freshman Ivan McCartney will be looked upon to try to contribute quickly. Whether he can is still to be seen.

But at least for now, as Mullen and the rest of the West Virginia coaches head out on the road to recruit, there are a few reasons for optimism at the end of the spring.

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