By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
April 6, 2010
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – For the third time in his three years at West Virginia, offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen will be working with a new starting quarterback during spring drills.
||Sophomore quarterback Geno Smith will be limited in what he will be able to do this spring while recovering from a broken bone in his foot.
WVU Photographic Services/M.G Ellis photo
First it was Pat White and then last year it was Jarrett Brown. Now it’s sophomore Geno Smith, but unfortunately there is a slight catch this time around. Smith will be limited in what he can do this spring because he is recovering from a broken bone in his foot. That, in turn, will limit what the Mountaineers can do offensively.
“It’s a big, big deal,” said Mullen. “It will certainly affect how we call plays this spring and it will certainly affect the drills that we run. And it will affect Geno Smith in the long run in terms of his ability to grow and mature.”
In an ideal setting, Smith would be getting the vast majority of the reps in pass skeleton, run drills and scrimmaging. At the present time Smith can hand the ball off and throw the ball in certain situations during skeleton, but he cannot run nakeds or bootlegs and will not be on the field during scrimmages.
That role will be filled by sophomore Coley White.
“Coley is going to have 15 practices with an opportunity to prove to me that he needs to stay in our (quarterback) room,” said Mullen.
More competition is on the way this summer when touted recruits Barry Brunetti and Jeremy Johnson will arrive on campus. Mullen says he thinks about them a lot.
“I think about them every day,” Mullen admitted. “I would put them in pads if I could. By default they will be in our top three. By default they are on the bus, on the plane, being THE guy or being a rep away from being THE guy, and they have absolutely no clue what we’re doing on offense.”
There are several reasons why West Virginia is in this situation, but Mullen said the primary reason is because it’s difficult finding good quarterbacks that are willing to sit for a couple of years.
“I understand the hole at quarterback because no one wants to come in and play behind the guy,” said Mullen. “It happened to us at Wake Forest. Riley Skinner was a redshirt freshman and for three years we couldn’t recruit a quarterback. Every single one we recruited went somewhere else. Heck, the one we’re playing next year at Coastal Carolina (Zach MacDowall), I recruited him at Wake Forest. He was my guy and he transfers after his second year because he’s sitting behind Riley Skinner.”
What Mullen tried to do with this year’s class is bring in two quarterbacks with different skill sets.
“You don’t want to take two guys and one guy sits the bench and never plays his entire career and transfers out,” he explained. “There was some thought put into one of the two guys being a little more of a slash kind of guy, if you will.”
Even though Smith will not be out there taking the reps, he will still have an edge over Brunetti and Johnson simply because he knows the system and he has seen game action.
“I would be naïve and wrong to say that Geno does not have the inside track,” said Mullen. “Clearly he knows the playbook better than anybody and that’s a big part of it.
“It’s going to be like Pat White playing his first year or Jarrett Brown playing his first year, but without the prior spring,” said Mullen. “You are talking about a kid who doesn’t have a body of work that Jarrett or Pat did. You are talking about a first-year guy. No question, he had over 200 reps last year and that was wonderful experience, but there is no spring ball going into the year.”
What is so concerning to Mullen about Smith is the fact that a quarterback’s feet are just as important as his throwing arm.
“You’re talking about the most important attribute from a quarterback is your feet and that’s where the injury is,” Mullen explained. “You don’t want to tear a rotator cuff and you don’t want to break the feet. Knees you can come back from, ribs you can come back from, non-throwing shoulders you can come back from … concussions not so much either and unfortunately we’ve had those, too.”
As a result, West Virginia will likely have to rely on a strong running game, improved offensive line play, and another stout defense until Mullen is comfortable with his quarterbacks.
Mullen is certainly appreciative of the understanding the defensive coaches have had for the circumstances he has had to confront.
“They get it,” Mullen said. “There has never been a complaint. It’s awesome, and to have the ability to rely on that is just wonderful. We have been able to score 30 a game a lot of times and we want to go for 450 or 500, which we’ve been able to do, but it’s awesome to know that we can rely on them and having number seven (Noel Devine) in the backfield to make things happen when you might be at a numerical disadvantage is a comforting feeling, too.”
Because he will not be able to take part in scrimmages this spring, timing will be a big issue for Smith when he is no longer under any restrictions this fall.
“Will his polish be there? The speed of the game … the worst part about quarterback is those growing pains will be exposed,” admitted Mullen. “Every time you see a check-down throw, you may not have seen the guy that he was supposed to throw to wide open, and those are the things that you miss.”
Asked who will get most of the number two reps at quarterback this spring, Mullen answered, “I think Lonnie Galloway will get those.”
Galloway was a former college quarterback who now coordinates West Virginia’s passing game. Offensive line coach Dave Johnson will serve as the team’s run game coordinator.
“I always rely on Dave Johnson for the run game and I have always relied on Lonnie Galloway in the throw game,” said Mullen. “That’s the good thing about what we’ve got going on with our offensive staff. It’s wonderful that they get a title and they get that opportunity to maybe publically display that, but I’ve never gone into a situation saying this is mine and we’re doing it this way. I can’t do this alone and never have.
“The day to day workings of how we do things is not going to change,” Mullen said. “They’ve all got certain areas for the game plan and when it’s time for their areas they tell me this is what we should run. Of course, I think it through and I’ve looked at it with them on my own and we certainly come to an agreement.”
Mullen said the one disappointing area during his two years here at WVU has been his quarterback’s completion percentage. It should be higher considering the nature of the offense.
“A lot of that has to do with quarterback timing, quarterback reads and quarterback play in general,” said Mullen. “That is not a knock in any way on Patrick White or Jarrett Brown as much as it is a situation where a kid has got to grown in a system. It’s very difficult to be one and done with new terms three straight years. Those are not excuses – that is a reality.”
When Mullen was at Wake Forest they had time to develop their system because Coach Jim Grobe was given a long-term contract.
“I remember the success we had at Wake Forest. It was four wins, five wins, six wins, boom, 11, 10, nine and 10,” Mullen said. “The reason for that was we were able to redshirt and the reason we were able to redshirt was because Coach Grobe had a 10-year contract. The reality of our situation is you are forced to play with younger people. You know it going in and you just coach your rear end off.”
Another area Mullen wants to see improvement is straight ahead running by his running backs.
“I feel like at times we’re too sideways,” he said. “I think we addressed that this year with a little bit more of an occasional downhill running style.”
Mullen said sometimes he is forced to pound a square peg into a round hole during scrimmages when facing Jeff Casteel’s 3-3 stack defense. As a result, sometimes opinions can be somewhat skewed.
“We concede certain things during scrimmages,” Mullen said. “There are certain plays that we run that we know are uphill against that defense because we have to run them to get better. Thank goodness we are not keeping points. I would never tell our kids that because I want them competing and those kinds of things, but there is no question we put them into uphill situations during spring purposely.”
Last year West Virginia was predominantly a five-man offensive line. Mullen does not want that to happen again this year.
“You need eight,” he said. “You need two centers, three guards and three tackles so you can roll them through. That would take 20 reps a game off of each kid. We’ve got to find them this spring. There are seven kids and three of those guys need to step up from the five kids that will be redshirt freshmen and the two kids that will be redshirt sophomores.”
Again, when Mullen arrived at WVU he was confronted with severe depth issues at offensive line.
“When I came here we had five linemen that were seniors and, bang, the next year they were gone,” he said. “So the next two years we really struggled. I don’t know why there was that gaping hole.”