His Guys

Jeff Mullen is starting his third full season on the job as WVU's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. But this is the first fall training camp Mullen has had a quarterback he recruited in place to run his offense.

True sophomore Geno Smith is the presumptive starter for the Mountaineers this season. And while Mullen believes the Miramar, Fla., native has many of the positive qualities of former quarterbacks Pat White and Jarrett Brown, he acknowledges that Smith is different from that duo in one significant way.

"I think Pat and Jarrett dominated the ball at times, and I think rightfully so," Mullen said. "They were, for the most part, the best player on the field, physically speaking. Geno is not that kind of guy."

Those honors, according to the former Wake Forest quarterbacks coach, belong to wide receiver Tavon Austin, running back Noel Devine and slot receiver Jock Sanders.

"They're the best players on the field," Mullen said. "What Geno has the ability to do within our system is to distribute the ball when needed."

That is not to say that Smith lacks his own special abilities as well. In full-scale, "team" drills in practices thus far, head coach Bill Stewart has said the sophomore has tucked the ball and ran well when needed.

But Stewart was also quick to say that Smith "just needs to learn to slide" in some of those situations, lest he injure himself again -- either by breaking the fifth metatarsal in his left foot again or falling victim to a concussion as both Brown and White did during their tenures as fleet-footed Mountaineers.

While it would behoove Smith to take care of his body in simple ways like that, the signal-caller has at least shown that he is not playing in fear of re-injuring himself-- a feeling that would hardly be irrational after having broken bones in his feet twice in his brief time at West Virginia.

Displaying fear, or any other emotion, for that matter, just isn't Smith's style, according to his position coach.

"I've never emotion on that child in over a year, good or bad," Mullen said. "We've climbed up his rear end pretty good at times, and we've put our arms around him at times. And he's still the same guy.

"Hurt or not, you don't know it. Rattled or not, you don't know it. Mad or not, you don't know it. And that is a wonderful trait to have as a quarterback."

While Smith will almost certainly be the player taking snaps when WVU opens its season Sept. 4 against Coastal Carolina, there is a compelling battle for the backup spot between a pair of true freshman.

Mullen expressed that he was pleased with the progress of Barry Brunetti and Jeremy Johnson through the early portion of camp -- a good sign, considering that the team (as per usual) installed the entire offense in the first four days of practice, taking the rest of camp to go back and re-teach in smaller segments.

"I'm very, very happy to report their progress mentally," Mullen said. "I think they're ahead of the curve a little bit."

While many true freshmen would likely be completely lost after being tasked with learning an entire college football offense in four days, the offensive coordinator said that he actually expected Brunetti and Johnson to be able to adapt quickly.

"They are both very, very talented kids. They are exactly what we thought they were on tape and from what we saw of them live at the first of last year as high school players," Mullen said.

"They made the effort to get on campus early and take some summer school. To listen to how the other players would mention how smart they are and how they pick things up -- and like I said, we put a lot on their plate the first four days, and I'm very, very happy with their progress."

Each quarterback is getting their chance to show Mullen just what they are made of. For the first 10 practices of the fall, Brunetti, Johnson and Smith are all taking about one-third of the repetitions in "live" drills.

"That will get us through the first week," Mullen said. "The purpose is two-fold. One, we want to make sure Geno's foot kind of rolls back into rhythm as he gets his feet up underneath himself; and, two, to find out what those young guys can do. We've got a very short window of time to figure out what they can bring us this fall."

Mullen said he expects to start to narrow down just who might win the backup job by the second week of camp, allowing Smith and that person to have an even division of the reps. By the time the Coastal Carolina game is about a week and a half away, that split will go towards the normal two-thirds for the starter and one-third for the backup.

"And it's way too early to tell who is what, when and where," the offensive coordinator emphasized. "They're all three good quarterbacks, and we're just coaching the dog out of them for the first 10 practices. I'm just real happy that I've got three that can play."

Indeed, both Brunetti and Johnson may ultimately end up traveling with the team this fall. And while Smith gained valuable experience in several games backing up Brown, Mullen hopes to avoid burning either quarterback's redshirt for just a few plays this fall.

"You never want to, you know, from a big picture standpoint, play a kid for a couple of plays and call it a year," Mullen said. "For Geno, he got around 250 plays last year, and that's pretty good for a freshman."

But ultimately, there is plenty of time for the details to sort themselves out in terms of who earns the backup spot, if either Brunetti or Johnson actually plays (and for how many snaps and under what circumstances). For now, Mullen is simply pleased that there is a legitimate battle in his quarterback meeting room this fall.

"You always want to have a situation of competition, and I think that's one of the things we were lacking at the quarterback position -- and rightfully so," Mullen said. "Patrick White was the man. There was no discussion on that. Then last season, Jarrett Brown had earned that opportunity.

"This year, the neat thing is, I've got three. Coley [White] -- four. I'll pull that ace out and play Bradley Starks if I need to -- five. And those guys know it. We're competing in practice and we're competing off the field and we're watching more tape, and I think we're doing the things that are necessary for a quarterback to do."

BlueGoldNews Top Stories