This year will be the first time Dana Holgorsen will be overseeing a true, wide-open quarterback competition since his first season at Houston in 2008.
Holgorsen inherited Geno Smith when he took over West Virginia’s program in 2011, and he also had an established guy to work with in Brandon Weedon during his one season running the Oklahoma State offense in 2010.
This year, it’s anyone’s guess who will get the starting job when the Mountaineers open their season on Aug. 31 against William & Mary.
Junior Paul Millard
has a slight edge over freshmen Ford Childress
and Chavas Rawlins
in experience, the Flower Mound, Texas resident appearing in 11 games the last two seasons while completing 16-of-34 passes for 211 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions.
Perhaps Millard’s most meaningful throw was a 37-yard touchdown pass to Stedman Bailey in the first quarter of last year’s Oklahoma State loss. Otherwise, the majority of his snaps have come in a mop-up capacity.
“We have zero experience,” said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. “Geno took the significant amount of practice reps since we’ve been here. Paul has been here a little longer, but in my opinion, it’s an evenly matched race as you can get.”
Childress, from Houston, arrived at mid-semester last year and has been in the program for more than a year now. Tall (6-feet-5) and strong-armed, Childress threw for more than 3,000 yards with 41 touchdowns during his senior season at Houston Kincaid High. Childress was an ESPNU Top 150 recruit after leading his prep team to back-to-back conference titles.
“Their skills sets are a lot more similar than they are different, in my opinion,” said Dawson of Millard and Childress. “They come from a throwing background; they’re not very athletic and neither one of them is going to run a 4.5 at the combine one day, but that doesn’t mean the production can’t be up there. We’ve done it with a lot of different type guys in the past.”
According to Dawson, it was difficult for Millard or Childress to be that assertive in the past because the offense clearly revolved around Smith for the last three years.
“It was hard for them to have a dominant identity,” Dawson admitted. “That’s just the nature of athletics. It was probably that way at the receiver position. When you are sitting behind Tavon (Austin) who is the dominant guy? Tavon. You’re going to wait your turn, but I think with those two guys their personalities will come up more and more now that they embrace, more and more, being the man.”
Monessen, Pa.’s Rawlins, like Childress and Millard, also chose to get a head start on college by enrolling at mid-semester. He passed for 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns during his senior season in 2012 while adding 613 yards and 12 scores on the ground to earn Pittsburgh Tribune Review player of the years honors. Rawlins, at 6-feet-3 and 190 pounds, has the most foot speed of the three and it will be interesting to see how rapidly he develops in Holgorsen’s system along with Millard and Childress.
“Chavas is where both those kids were a year ago and two years ago, just being new and trying to soak it all in, learning things and hearing things for the first time,” said Holgorsen. “I haven’t seen him take a snap yet in college so we are going to have a lot of opportunities to evaluate these guys.”
Of the three, Holgorsen said Millard has the best grasp of the system right now because he has been in it longer.
“But that doesn’t mean we are going to give him more reps because it’s not where they are right now, it is where they end up in six months,” Holgorsen said. “Ford is very motivated at this point right now; he is doing well.”
Holgorsen said all three are going to get a heavy dose of drill work this spring from Dawson.
“Coach Dawson will drill them every day and get them out there for 20, 30 or 40 minutes,” Holgorsen said. “They need a lot of drill work and a lot of team snaps – they need a lot of skill reps and they need a lot of inside reps just to get comfortable with the offense.”
Dawson admits he is excited to get out on the field and starting with all of the offensive players.
“You can tell in our meeting rooms that everybody has a lot of anticipation on what’s going to happen,” said Dawson. “I’m curious to see who the players are going to be. I think when you do have change it does rejuvenate you a little bit.”
Holgorsen says the player who ultimately comes out on top at quarterback is going to be decided by them – not by the coaches.
“We will evaluate them, but they are going to show so much improvement and we will see whichever guy shows the most improvement and puts us in the best position to be successful,” he said.
Will he have a No. 1 guy by the end of the spring? Will he have one by the time fall practice begins? Holgorsen doesn’t have answers to those questions yet.
“Once spring is over a lot can happen over the summer,” he explained. “You have lots of tape to sit there and watch. You have 15 more practices that you can look forward to, so I would hesitate (to say when he will name his starter).”
Holgorsen said having three young, eager guys to work with is exciting – just as it was exciting having established guys like Smith, Weedon and Case Keenum to work with in the past as well.
“We coach for a reason – we like to coach,” Holgorsen said. “There are a lot of aspects about this that probably I could say otherwise, but we are excited about it. It is an opportunity, and Shannon and I have been talking about this for a while from an offensive standpoint - let us reevaluate everything and let’s start coaching these guys real hard.”
The evaluating and the coaching begin this Sunday.