MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is well aware of the numbers Brandon Weedon at Oklahoma State and Case Keenum at Houston put up in Dana Holgorsen’s offense, and he admits he has watched some tape of those guys in action. But as far as getting them on the phone to pick their brains, Smith said he’s not quite to that point, yet.
“I don’t really have any need to contact those guys,” said Smith Saturday. “I’m not saying I wouldn’t if I felt I needed to.”
So far, Holgorsen has been generally pleased with the way Smith has handled the first three days of practice.
“You can tell he’s played more,” said Holgorsen. “He’s got experience. His body language is great. He bounces around. He’s a leader.”
Holgorsen has said he wants to have the entire offense installed in three days and then spend the remaining 12 spring practices going over it again and again. He’s even OK with players making mistakes right now as long as they are giving maximum effort.
And make no mistake, Smith is making mistakes.
“His head is cloudy but as each practice goes on he will get it a little more,” said Holgorsen. “You can tell from the beginning of practice to the end of practice (the quarterbacks) work at a little better rate.”
The one thing you notice right away is the difference in the way Holgorsen handles his quarterbacks on the field. Holgorsen stands on the sideline taking things in, looking almost professorial, while former offensive coodinator Jeff Mullen was typically positioned behind the quarterbacks barking out instructions and doing a lot of on-field teaching. So far, Holgorsen has chosen to do most of his teaching in the meeting room.
“It’s a different philosophy,” said Smith. “We’re going to make mistakes and that’s why we go out and practice. We make mistakes out on the practice field so that we can watch film and learn from it. It’s just a fast tempo.”
Besides the tempo, Smith said he can’t really detect much else that’s dramatically different as far as how the players are being prepared in practice each day.
“It’s a different offense, everything is going to be different, but it’s not a shocker as players,” he said. “We’re just learning. If Coach Mullen was here and it was the same offense we would be doing the same thing.
“We have different offensive coordinators who have different philosophies,” Smith added. “They are very different, but it’s still football so in a way it’s still similar.”
Overall, Smith believes things are going well after one week of spring work.
“I think we’ve had a good tempo,” he said. “The signals are getting in fast and we’re communicating well with the receivers and the offensive line, and I think we’ve been doing pretty well with the communication aspect, which has allowed us to go out and play ball.”
Smith says having a large number of veterans back on offense has been helpful, even if the system is still foreign to them. That’s because they already know how to prepare for practice.
“We have guys coming back,” Smith noted. “We have offensive linemen who are not participating (Don Barclay and Jeff Braun) and those guys played a lot of snaps last year, but with experience we know what to do. We’re not freshmen and we’re not out there trying to figure things out. We’re out there trying to help the guys who are freshmen to try and become better players.”
As for his foot, Smith said there are no problems whatsoever right now.
“My foot feels great; I’m not sore,” he said. “I haven’t had any pains or issues.”
Smith’s arm is also feeling pretty good despite throwing a lot more than he was accustomed to in the past. The quarterbacks now are throwing in some manner or form for most of the practice.
“My arm feels great,” Smith said. “We have a great strength staff and great trainers and they keep us up as players.
"As quarterbacks we don’t have to throw the ball hard.”Briefly:
- West Virginia had its third practice of the spring indoors on Saturday, although Holgorsen said he would have preferred to have gone outside. A snowstorm blew through Morgantown Saturday morning but by the afternoon the sun was out and the temperatures crept up into the 40s.
- It’s way too early to begin talking about absolutes, but it appears West Virginia’s defense is going to be a little faster than last year’s – and smaller. The two guys up front in the middle replacing Chris Neild and Scooter Berry will likely be giving up 20-25 pounds each and defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel said that is somewhat concerning. To compensate, he indicated that there could be more angling and shading this year to keep his two inside guys from taking on blockers directly.
Casteel also admitted he is also installing things at a little slower pace than usual with a young defense that lost seven starters from last year’s nationally ranked unit.
“You can say something to them, and they already know it and can move on to the next point, but some of these guys are still learning the basics,” he said. “They are right where they should be at this point in the spring. We just have to keep trying to get better every day, and that’s what we’re trying to do. They have to get reps, see it—watch the film and get corrected on mistakes to move on.”
- The veteran defensive coordinator said junior college linebacker Josh Francis has already caught his eye with his explosiveness and a willingness to come up and hit people. Those characteristics were evident when Casteel saw Francis’ junior college film.
- Dana Holgorsen said after Saturday’s practice that he’s not a big fan of players learning more than one position. Last year, Tavon Austin played slot receiver but he was also available in case he was needed at running back. There were others required to learn all of the receiver spots.
“We’re not having anybody play two positions,” he said. “I don’t even want anyone playing inside and outside receiver, because it defeats the purpose of being able to get your skills really good at what you’re doing. He is settled at inside receiver, and I think that’s where he belongs. We will get him good at that and try to get him good at being a return guy.”
- Holgorsen said sophomore wide receiver Ivan McCartney has been practicing well so far.
- It may seem unusual seeing a 250-pound guy line up at inside receiver, but Holgorsen says that’s not that big of a deal in his offense. Former tight end Tyler Urban is doing that right now, and playing pretty well, too.
“He catches the ball well,” Holgorsen said. “Everyone around here views slot receivers as the Tavon kind of guys and the Jock Sanders kind of guys, but I’ve used tight ends as slot receivers before. Body types don’t matter. It’s getting in the right spot and being able to catch the ball in traffic. Having the bigger bodies that can block linebackers is also very important.”
Holgorsen said he can envision lining up Urban in different spots on the field, putting him in motion and using him as a blocker, a pass catcher or even as a decoy.
- Former Mountaineer quarterback Pat White was among those taking in practice at Milan Puskar Stadium on Friday afternoon.
- Practice resumes Wednesday morning. It will be the first full-padded workout of the spring.