Spring Football Preview
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - In 2010, West Virginia finished 9-4 for the third straight year and went 5-2 in BIG EAST Conference play, good enough for a share of the championship. That marked the sixth league title for WVU, most of any school in the conference.
As the Mountaineers enter spring football, there are a lot of unknowns. The entire offensive coaching staff is new, and their top priorities are to learn the faces and abilities of the players and to install a different offensive scheme. Defensively, seven starters are gone from last year’s unit, one that went down as the best not only in the BIG EAST Conference but one of the top in the nation. On special teams, a punter and return personnel have to be established.
However, fourth-year coach Bill Stewart remains steadfast and constant with his goals – win the BIG EAST and earn a berth in a BCS bowl game. Two areas in which he believes are of utmost importance for championship football are chemistry and leadership.
“This spring, our No. 1 objective is chemistry,” Stewart said. “I have a great staff, and I am very blessed with tremendous players, coaches and administration. Our chemistry has to be one of high value. Every football team has to have great chemistry. If you don’t have that, then nothing you do is going to matter.
“Second, we need to have leadership. We are blessed with tremendous leadership. Leadership is important in any institution, specifically here. We have great football coaches. You know that from our defensive coaches, and you will learn that as you meet our new offensive guys.
“Our players have been working hard during the offseason and want to improve and be a good football team. The seniors have been good leaders and the others seem to be following their direction. We lifted and ran in January and February and just completed what we term “another level” (mat drills) in March. We now are ready for spring practice.”
Heading into the spring, the offense returns eight starters, 18 lettermen and five other players with at least one game of starting experience.
Dana Holgorsen, one of top offensive minds in college football, takes over the offensive reins this spring. He will install his version of the spread offense, one in which has been very successful at three different schools, including the most recent as the top offense in the nation in 2010 at Oklahoma State.
“Offensively, we have a pretty good idea of where we are going to place people, but that is going to change,” Holgorsen said.
“The depth chart right now is a good place to start. Where we are at with the offense is pretty much the same thing as far as getting to know the kids right now. From an Xs and Os standpoint, we are trying to get everyone on the same page.
“We don’t put a number on yards or being ranked in certain areas - all of that will take care of itself. Basically, we are trying to install the mentality and philosophy of what we want to do.”
Leading the offense will be all-BIG EAST second team quarterback Geno Smith (6-3, 214, Jr.), second team all-BIG EAST receiver Tavon Austin (5-9, 174, Jr.), receiver Stedman Bailey (5-10, 192, r-So.) and receiver Brad Starks (6-3, 193, r-Sr.) and offensive linemen second team all-BIG EAST Don Barclay (6-4, 305, r-Sr.) and Josh Jenkins (6-3, 305, Sr.) and Joe Madsen (6-4, 300, r-Jr.).
“Our offensive goals are real simple,” Stewart said. “Number one, we need to play with a fast tempo. That is what we want to do and who we want to become. We are going to get on the field and play fast.
“Number two, we need to play hard. The Mountaineers always play hard, and we are going to continue to play hard and play with pride. We are known for being a physical football team, and we don’t want that to change. There is also a great effort the players have to emulate on the field and the coaches have to coach with. If you don’t play with a hard edge
and a physical demeanor, then it will show.
“We want to play smart and eliminate any kind of turnovers and penalties – anything of that nature.”
With the loss of all-time all-purpose yardage leader Noel Devine, different runners will have a chance to make their mark and build the needed depth to complete the Mountaineer stable. After coaching the running backs at Oklahoma State, Robert Gillespie takes over the coaching duties this year at WVU.
Ryan Clarke (6-0, 232, r-Jr.) could be used at either one of the running back positions, as he is a good runner and has solid blocking skills. He was second on the team in rushing with 80 carries for 291 yards, an average of 3.6 yards per carry and a team-leading eight rushing touchdowns. He had multiple touchdowns at Pitt (2) and against Rutgers (3) and ran for a season-high 65 yards against Maryland and 42 yards at UConn.
Shawne Alston (5-11, 219, Jr.) is a big back who is a good between the tackles runner. He saw his playing time increase in 2010 after Devine went down with the toe injury at LSU and ankle injury against Louisville. He was the team’s third leading rusher with 56 carries for 248 yards, an average of 4.4 yards per rush and had a long run of 23 yards. He finished with a season-high 75 yards against Cincinnati and had 71 yards at Pitt.
Trey Johnson (5-10, 180, So.), Daquan Hargrett (5-6, 187, r-So.) and Vernard Roberts (5-9, 182, Fr.), are smaller backs with speed and quickness.
Johnson saw action in five games last year, Hargrett played in 10 games but mostly used on special teams and Roberts enrolled in school in January. Roberts finished the 2009 season with 1,004 yards on 100 carries with nine touchdowns and had 13 receptions for 165 yards and three touchdowns. He finished three-year career with 238 carries for 1,728 yards rushing and 14 rushing touchdowns. Because he played a game in eighth grade, he was unable to play in 2010 because his eligibility was completed.
Clarke could also see time at the “B” back position, as well as Matt Lindamood (6-0, 236, r-Jr.) and Ricky Kovatch (6-1, 234, Sr.), who are bigger backs and excellent blockers. Lindamood finished with 15 carries for 49 yards and a touchdown and had one reception for six yards in 2010.
Four starters from last year’s offensive line return for the second year in a row. In 2011, the offensive line will be under the direction of a new coach as Bill Bedenbaugh is in his first year at WVU after serving in the same position
The offensive line returns 82 percent of the snaps and 80 percent of the starts from last season. Out of a total of 908 offensive plays in 2010, senior tackle Barclay played on 875 plays, junior tackle Jeff Braun (6-4, 320, r-Jr.) on 846, junior center Madsen on 846 plays and senior guard Jenkins on 709 plays. Sophomore guard Cole Bowers (6-5, 296, r-So.) was used on 316 plays, senior guard Chad Snodgrass (6-4, 295, r-Sr.) on 78 plays and junior center John Bassler (6-4, 306, r-Jr.) and senior tackle Tyler Rader (6-3, 296, r-So.) on 35 plays each.
Barclay has played in 39 career games and started 27, Jenkins in 29 games and started 24, Madsen has started in all 25 games in which he has played and Braun in 24 games and started 13.
Behind the blocking of the line, the Mountaineer offense accumulated 400 or more yards of total offense in seven games in 2010. WVU finished No. 2 in the BIG EAST in passing, total offense and total first downs. WVU had the top passer in the league in passing yards per game, pass efficiency and second in total yards per game.
Braun led the offensive line with 48 knockdowns and five thunderbolt blocks, Barclay had 45 knockdowns and five thunderbolt blocks, Jenkins finished with 42 knockdowns and six thunderbolt blocks and Madsen collected 38 knockdowns and five thunderbolt blocks.
Adding depth and competing for a spot in the line rotation will be Quinton Spain (6-5, 348, r-Fr.), Nick Kindler (6-6, 292, r-So.) and Curtis Feigt (6-6, 300, r-So.), who moved over from defense, at left tackle, Snodgrass at left guard, Bassler at center, Rader at right guard and Pat Eger (6-6, 296, r-So.) at right tackle.
Shannon Dawson takes over as the receivers coach after serving as the offensive coordinator at Stephen F. Austin the past three seasons. Austin, Bailey, Starks and J.D. Woods (6-0, 190, r-Jr.) are the leading receivers returning this spring. All showed signs of being dependable offensive weapons for WVU in 2010 and will have a chance to be featured receivers in the new offensive scheme.
Starks, Ivan McCartney (6-3, 176, So.), Woods and Ryan Nehlen (6-2, 204, r-Jr.) look to compete this spring at the outside receiver positions, and Austin, Bailey, Tyler Urban (6-5, 251, Sr.) and Coley White (6-0, 176) will battle for the inside positions.
Austin returns for his second year as one of the team’s starting wide receivers and one of the team’s top offensive playmakers. This spring, he is being moved to an inside receiver position and will be able to showcase his ability in the new offensive scheme.
In 2010, Austin finished No. 4 in the BIG EAST, and No. 85 in the NCAA, in receptions-per-game (4.5), and fifth in the conference, No. 85 in the nation, in receiving yards-per-game (63.2). He led the team in scoring with nine touchdowns, tying for eighth in the conference.
With 58 catches for 787 yards and eight touchdowns last season, Austin tied with Jock Sanders for No. 2 on the all-time WVU sophomore receptions list; the total was also the eighth best single-season mark in WVU history. Austin’s top performances were against Rutgers, as he registered six catches for 121 yards and a touchdown, a career-high nine catches at
Marshall and seven catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns against Maryland. He finished with multiple touchdowns against Maryland (2), Cincinnati (2) and Pitt (2).
Bailey was WVU’s fourth leading receiver as a redshirt freshman, finishing with 24 receptions for 317 yards and four touchdowns. His top performances were five catches for 72 yards at Marshall, four catches for 61 yards and a touchdown against NC State, four catches for 60 yards and two touchdowns against Maryland and four catches for 36 yards at UConn.
Starks, who battled injuries through the early part of the season, was the fifth leading receiver as a junior, finishing with 19 catches for 317 yards and four touchdowns. His top performance was four catches for 100 yards and three touchdowns against UNLV. Woods was the sixth leading receiver as a redshirt sophomore, having 18 catches for 205 yards and a touchdown. His best day was four catches for 52 yards against Syracuse.
The defense had an outstanding year in 2010 as it ranked No. 2 nationally in sacks, rushing defense and third-down defense, No. 3 in scoring and total defense, No. 6 in most three and outs, No. 11 in pass defense and No. 13 in pass efficiency defense.
Jeff Casteel, now in his 11th year at WVU and 10th year as the defensive coordinator at WVU, was recently named the defensive coordinator on rivals.com’s “Football Assistant Dream Team.”
Seven starters are lost from that unit, including four who were named to All-American teams and four who were invited to the NFL Combine. Three of the top four and eight of the top 12 tacklers also are gone.
“This is going to be a big spring for us defensively,” Casteel said. “Losing the caliber kids that we lost this year is big.
When you look at who we lost and where at, it is spread throughout the defense. Our challenge is trying to plug guys into those spots. We are excited to get a chance to get the guys on the field to see what they can do.”
Leading the defense into the spring will be defensive linemen Julian Miller (6-4, 259, r-Sr.) and Bruce Irvin (6-3, 236, Sr.), linebacker Najee Goode (6-1, 239, r-Sr.) and defensive backs Terence Garvin (6-3, 216, Jr.), Eain Smith (5-11, 198, r-Sr.) and Keith Tandy (5-10, 200, r-Sr.).
“We still have to find some ways to see what our kids do best and put them in a position where we can play to their strengths,” Casteel said. “We had great leadership last year. They were very competitive, and as the year went on they got more and more confidence. That is what we need to stress this spring.”
The defensive line took a big hit as All-American Chris Neild and all-BIG EAST performer Scooter Berry are gone. Miller, the third starter on the line and Irvin, an honorable-mention All-American as a pass rush specialist return to bolster this year’s line.
“One of the reasons for our success last year was that we had seniors who played their best football,” Casteel said. "Chris Neild had been a solid guy throughout his career, but played his best last year. Scooter Berry had a great career here, but played his best football as a senior.
“You get guys like Julian Miller back from up front. He is a good football player and has to play his best football for us this year. We have Bruce Irvin, who was everyone’s hero, back. He was my hero, too, and probably the reason why we were second in the country in third-down defense. Our challenge there is to try to develop him into a kid who can play more snaps for us and not just be a third-down specialist. Bruce is willing to do what he has to do to help the football team.”
Miller, who was a two-year starter at defensive end is being moved this spring to defensive tackle. He was the sixth leading tackler last season with 54 total tackles, including 28 solo tackles and tied Irvin with a team leading 14 tackles for loss.
Miller was second to Irvin on the squad with nine sacks and also forced a fumble and had three pass breakups. He collected five or more tackles in six games, had at least one tackle for loss in nine games and had at least one sack in six games. He had a season-high nine tackles at Connecticut and season-high three sacks against Rutgers.
Irvin will be the starter at defensive end. He had an outstanding first year at WVU, finishing as the BIG EAST sack leader (14) and was No. 2 in the nation. His season totals include 21 tackles, including 18 unassisted stops, 14 sacks, two pass breakups and two forced fumbles. He also was tied for No. 4 in the BIG EAST in tackles for loss. He registered multiple sacks in five games last year, including a season high three against Maryland. He also finished with at least one sack in eight games and two sacks against Connecticut, Louisville, Rutgers and NC State.
J.B. Lageman (6-3, 270, r-Jr.) and C.J. Huffman (6-1, 284, r-Jr.) saw limited action last year and look to add depth at the tackle position. Will Clarke (6-6, 260, r-So.) and walk-on Ted Rietschlin (6-5, 264, r-Fr.) look to add depth at the end position. Clarke showed promise early last season until a high ankle sprain slowed his progress.
Veterans Jorge Wright (6-2, 281, r-Jr.) and Josh Taylor (6-1, 285, r-Sr.), who hail from Miami will compete for the starting job at nose tackle. Wright played in 12 games and finished with 10 tackles and forced a fumble. Taylor played in 11 games and registered 13 tackles and forced a fumble. Redshirt freshman Trevor Demko (6-6, 251, r-Fr.) sat out last year and will look to add to the mix.
Three linebackers - J.T. Thomas, Pat Lazear and Anthony Leonard - made a lot of plays for the Mountaineers over the past four years and now have to be replaced.
Najee Goode is the only returning starter in the linebacker corps. He started 11 games last season on the strong side and will see action there once again, although he could be moved to the weak-side. Forced into the starting lineup due to injuries last season, Goode produced. He ranked third on the team in tackles for loss (8.5), and eighth in total tackles (47). He also had three sacks, one forced fumble and four pass breakups.
Also competing with Goode at strong side linebacker are sophomore Doug Rigg, redshirt sophomore Tyler Anderson and redshirt junior Donovan Miles.
Rigg saw action in all 13 games last season and finished with 14 tackles, including assisting on a tackle for loss. Anderson played in all 13 games, mostly on special teams, and Miles saw limited action before being sidelined after having ankle surgery.
Competing with Goode at weak side linebacker is senior Casey Vance (5-9, 222, r-Sr.), junior Josh Francis (6-1, 214, Jr.) and redshirt freshman Troy Gloster (6-0, 224, r-Fr.).
Vance played in 12 games and registered eight tackles, including five solo stops and a forced fumble. Francis, a 2010 NJCAA first team All-American finished a two-year career at Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pa., with 95 tackles, 13 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. Gloster redshirted last season.
Sophomore Branko Busick (6-0, 235, r-So.) and redshirt freshman Jewone Snow will battle for the playing time at middle linebacker. Busick showed a lot of potential in the early part of the season, but a hand injury slowed his progress. He saw action on 45 plays and finished with three tackles.
Snow redshirted last year but has good size and ability.
Two starters, spur safety Terence Garvin and All-American cornerback Keith Tandy are the only returnees from last year.
“You look in the back,” Casteel said. “We lose Robert Sands, who again was a big-play kid for us and we also lost Brandon Hogan, who was arguably our best player on defense last year. And we lost Sidney Glover who made a lot of plays for us.”
Tandy who has been the starter at right cornerback for the past two years is moving to left cornerback this spring. He led the BIG EAST in interceptions (6) and tied for No. 10 nationally. He was tied for the lead in the BIG EAST in passes defended (17) and tied for No. 5 nationally.
He had at least one interception in five games and recorded two interceptions against UNLV, the first Mountaineer to have two picks in one game since Brandon Hogan recorded two at Connecticut in 2008.
Brantwon Bowser (5-11, 185, r-Sr.), Lawrence Smith (5-9, 181, r-Jr.) and newcomer Avery Williams (5-11, 176, Fr.) all will be in the mix for playing time this spring.
Bowser was brought in on passing downs last year and finished with 11 tackles, two pass breakups, an interception and a forced fumble.
Smith saw action in 13 games, mostly on special teams, finishing with six tackles, including four solo stops. Williams enrolled at WVU in January after having a standout career at Calvin Coolidge High in Washington, D.C.
Returnees Pat Miller (5-10, 185, Jr.) and Brodrick Jenkins (5-10, 184, r-So.) will battle for the starting job at right cornerback. Miller played in all 13 games last year, starting two. He was used on passing downs and finished with 20 tackles, including 14 unassisted stops, a tackle for loss and four pass breakups.
Jenkins also played in all 13 games last year and was used on passing downs. He registered 18 tackles, including 17 solo stops and two pass breakups.
Redshirt freshman Ishmael Banks (5-11, 182, r-Fr.) and true freshman Vance Roberts (5-8, 179, Fr.) will add to the mix. Banks redshirted last year and Roberts enrolled in January. Roberts, a Washington Post honorable-mention all-Metro selection, finished his last two seasons with 93 tackles, 12 pass breakups and five interceptions.
Garvin returns as the starter at spur safety. He led the team in tackles in 2010 with 76, including 41 solo stops, a sack, 4.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and four pass breakups, registering five or more tackles in eight games last year.
Mike Dorsey (6-3, 214, So.) adds depth and will compete for playing time this spring. He played in 13 games as a true freshman in 2010 and finished with seven solo tackles, including two for loss. He saw limited action on defense but was used on special teams.
After adding quality depth at the free safety position, veteran Eain Smith (5-11, 198, r-Sr.) returns for his final season looking to take the starting position. He will be sitting out for most of the spring after having offseason shoulder surgery.
He was used a lot of passing downs last year and finished with 23 tackles, including 15 unassisted tackles, a sack, an interception and two pass breakups.
With Smith being out in the spring, Travis Bell (6-2, 197, So.) and Qudral Forte (6-1, 187, r-Fr.) will be getting most of the reps. Bell was used on more than 60 plays last season and saw action on special teams, while Forte was redshirted.
Darwin Cook (5-11, 201, r-So.) was the backup at bandit safety last year and looks to be in line for the starting job. He played in all 13 games and finished with nine tackles, including eight unassisted tackles and a forced fumble.
Battling for playing time will be Wes Tonkery (6-1, 201, r-Fr.) and Lucas Henn (6-0, 197, r-Fr.). Both redshirted last year and will look to show off their abilities this spring.
Several areas need to be addressed with the special teams this spring.
“On special teams, we need to develop a punter,” said Stewart. “This is the fourth year in a row that we need a new punter. We are going to have to train a punter. Right now, it is going to be Corey Smith; he has the edge in punting.
“Our kickoff coverage got better, and we want to continue to improve on that. Our punt and kickoff return needs to have more productivity. Field goal production also needs to get better.”
Tyler Bitancurt (6-1, 197, r-Jr.) returns as the team’s kicker. As a sophomorer, he had an inconsistent season, hitting 10-of-17 field goal attempts but was perfect on all 41 extra point attempts. He hit five of his first six field goal attempts, including the game winner in overtime at Marshall. He then missed two at LSU before hitting five straight against USF, at UConn, and at Louisville. He finished the season by missing his final four attempts.
Bitancurt currently sits at No. 8 on WVU’s all-time field goals made list and all-time PAT chart and No. 7 on the all-time kick scoring list. For his career, he is 23-of-32 on field goal attempts and 77-of-78 on extra points and has 151 total points scored.
Smith (5-11, 212, r-Jr.) handled the team’s kickoff duties last year and will look to take on the punting responsibilities this year. He finished with 64 kickoffs for 3,984 yards, an average of 62.2 yards per kick and had eight touchbacks, twice the amount from the year before.
Walk-on Mike Molinari (6-2, 196, r-Fr.) will handle the holding duties and be the backup at kicker and punter. Cody Nutter (6-3, 238, r-Sr.) will be the team’s snapper for punts, extra points and field goals. Trent Lusk (5-9, 210, r-Jr.) and Jerry Cooper (5-11, 206, r-Fr.) will add depth.
At the beginning of spring practice, Brodrick Jenkins will look to take on the punt return duties, and Austin and Starks will handle the kickoff return duties.
Austin has been one of the team’s kickoff return specialist for the past two years. Last year, he finished with 12 returns for 230 yards, an average of 19.2 yards per return with a long return of 50 yards at Marshall. He returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown against Connecticut as a freshman in 2009.
The 2011 schedule will be a competitive slate with non-conference contests against LSU, Maryland, Bowling Green, Norfolk State and Marshall.
Connecticut, Louisville and Pitt visit Milan Puskar Stadium in league action, and the Mountaineers travel to Cincinnati, Rutgers, Syracuse and USF. WVU will play five of the first six games at home, before hitting the road for four of the final five contests. The season ends with a nationally televised Thursday night game at USF on Dec. 1.
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