Believe it or not, we have already reached the halfway point of preseason camp with eight practices remaining before the start of the fall semester on Monday, August 18.
Then it’s all Alabama prep as the Mountaineers get ready for their season opener against the No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide in the 2014 Chic-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.
So, where are the Mountaineers at right now?
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen gave us an update Thursday morning.
“I’ve been pleased with the amount of reps that we’re getting and the work we’re getting,” he said. “The biggest thing is the guys are starting to get sore and that’s just camp – you have to go through it. We’re trying to identify guys who can maintain mental toughness when they’re tired and mental toughness when they’re sore, hurting and it’s hot.”
Holgorsen is a notorious creature of habit who likes to keep the same routine all of the time. Even when camp starts to become monotonous he still prefers to stick to the plan instead of changing things up just to change things up.
“We do different things each day,” he noted. “We focus on situations each day. We’ve been through two third-down periods, we’ve touched on red zone, goal line situations (Wednesday), and we’ve touched on every aspect of the special teams units – that’s a day-to-day thing.
“Assignment and technique are things that we are harping on right now, especially when things get tough,” he continued. “My favorite part of the day is when we get out there at 4:30 p.m., when it’s typically the hottest; they’re sore, and who can rev the engines and get it going? That’s what I look forward to every day – who can get going and do it? It’s routine. We’re not going to shake things up too much. I want these guys to understand what to expect and to go out there and be able to self-start themselves and get going.”
But just because Holgorsen is accustomed to having an every-day routine, that doesn’t mean he’s against adapting to another way of doing things if he believes what they are doing isn’t working.
“I was on the treadmill, believe it or not, (Wednesday) and I was thinking of our Thursday and Friday game routine and maybe how we could change it a little bit to make it a little bit better,” he said. “I asked the staff how they’ve done it in the past and to make some phone calls. If there is anything we can do to make it better, I’m open to change. I’ve always been open to change, whether it’s scheme or practice schedules. That’s probably my inner Mike Leach coming out as far as researching things to figure out if there is a better way of doing it. And if there are, don’t be afraid to change it.”
More Camp Notes …
* One aspect of preseason camp that has captured the attention of those observing practices so far is the impressive athletic ability of freshman quarterback William Crest. When I first saw Crest and the No. 16 jersey that he is wearing I immediately thought of Jarrett Brown. The two are very similar in build and athleticism.
In fact, the coaching staff has been toying with the idea of using Crest to field punts because of his tremendous ball skills and athletic ability.
“Ball skills are important for a quarterback. Try catching punts from (former center) Pat Eger. The snap could be anywhere,” Holgorsen joked. “William has extremely large hands, which is a great sign of being able to spin the ball and having hand-eye coordination. He used to (return punts) in high school just to kind of stay in shape and the first practice I looked down there and he was catching punts. I was watching him and I’d be darned if it didn’t look pretty good.”
Will Crest return punts during games this year?
That depends, says Holgorsen.
“We need a punt returner so I said let’s see what he can do,” said Holgorsen. “He likes doing it and so I said go and do it. Would it be an option if he is the best one? Absolutely. If he was our starting, every-down quarterback, that’d be pretty silly, though. You obviously want your starting quarterback to hone in on being the every-down starting quarterback. But if he’s not the starting quarterback, and you have the luxury to have a little depth at quarterback, and if he’s the best option returning punts, then why not.”
Holgorsen said Crest has been getting No. 2 reps behind starter Clint Trickett to see what he can do, and right now his head is still spinning.
“William goes in there at some points and just doesn’t know what he’s doing, and it still looks good,” he said. “The biggest challenge with William is that his expectations of himself are extremely high, and he’s extremely competitive. He wants to please, he wants to learn and he wants to be good. It just doesn’t look good at times and it takes time to be able to understand what we’re trying to do.”
Having said that, Holgorsen admits Crest is ahead of the curve for the freshmen quarterbacks he’s been around.
“But he’s still got a long ways to go,” Holgorsen said. “I’ve mentioned it before … there is a reason why the previous two Heisman Trophy winners (Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel) redshirted as true freshman. We have the luxury of having a starting quarterback, who looks great.”
* With Clint Trickett the clear-cut starter and the backups established, it looks like the quarterback position is finally back on track for West Virginia after last season’s lost year.
There is nothing more critical to a football team than having the quarterback roles clearly defined heading into a season and history bears that out. Go back to any period when West Virginia football has struggled - the late 1950s and early 1960s, the mid-to-late 1970s, the mid-1980s, the early 1990s or the early 2000s – and the quarterback position is the first place to start looking.
Having Trickett as the obvious No. 1 allows him the ability to play freely and not look over his shoulder, and it also creates a clear line of succession for younger players such as William Crest to figure out what’s going on without the pressure of also having to game plan.
Crest can observe Trickett’s preparation and use that to his advantage when his time comes. Last year, it was basically scramble-mode for the quarterbacks all season long.
* Perhaps the biggest position battle going on right now is at free safety where sophomore Jeremy Tyler and touted true freshman Dravon Henry are locked in. We’ve heard a lot about Henry’s progress so far during camp, but what about Tyler, a Lithonia, Ga., resident?
“He’s been good,” said Holgorsen. “We have a pretty good battle going on there. Jeremy is a year into it. That’s a prime example of a guy who understands a little more what we’re doing now than he did a year ago. It’s also another example of being able to recruit at a pretty high level to be able to plug younger guys in who can compete.”
Holgorsen also noted that sophomore Jarrod Harper is not out of contention at free safety, either.
“He wasn’t quite ready to play a couple of years ago and he got thrown into the fire last year,” said Holgorsen. “He’s way more sound – not only assignment wise, but technique as well. To be able to build depth in the secondary and plug guys in who actually play the position that we’re asking them to play is great.”
That didn’t always happen last year and it obviously showed.
* Holgorsen said he would like to see three more receivers step up and become part of the rotation for the opener against Alabama.
“Jordan Thompson is having his best camp,” said Holgorsen. “I feel silly saying that, since he’s been Mr. Camp and Mr. Spring guy, but he is playing at a different level than he has. We’re still looking for two wideouts. We don’t have two wideouts who are established yet. The better the backups get, the better off we’re going to be.”
Right now the established guys are Mario Alford at X, Kevin White at Z, Dakiel Shorts at H and Cody Clay at H-back. Thompson is working at Y.
* West Virginia is certainly blessed with a number of outstanding tailbacks, with true freshman Dante Thomas-Williams looking like another good one that has been added to the mix, but is this really the deepest the running back position has ever been at WVU?
I’m not sure.
First of all, I don’t know if West Virginia has a No. 1 guy the caliber of a Stevie Slaton or an Amos Zereoue – or even a Charles Sims, for that matter - and I’m not sure the overall top-shelf depth is where it was back in the late 1960s when Jim Carlen built an impressive stable of running backs that included Jim Braxton, Bob Gresham, Eddie Williams and Pete Wood – all very productive college players.
Even Bobby Bowden had some deep backfields in the mid-1970s with guys like Kerry Marbury, Artie Owens, Ron Lee and Dwayne Woods toting the ball, and then in the late 1980s when Don Nehlen had A.B. Brown, Undra Johnson and Eugene Napoleon.
But having said that, this group is awfully deep and I’m excited to see how Holgorsen uses them this season because he always seems to come up with something unexpected to catch defenses off guard. We all remember what Holgorsen did with Tavon Austin against Oklahoma a few years ago and how that turned out …
* And finally, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder raised a few eyebrows the other day with his comments about the big-time nature of college athletics and how football “has sold out” to the almighty dollar.
Some perspective: College football seeking more revenue is not a new topic - far from it, actually.
Back in the 1950s, when the top college football programs were consistently drawing more than 50,000 spectators per game and television was first entering the picture, the NCAA chose to limit TV exposure. Why? To protect gate receipts because nobody then really understood how to monetize television.
Really smart people like Pitt athletic director Tom Hamilton extoled the evils of television in the 1950s and how it was going to ruin the financial viability of the sport. Well, that obviously didn’t happen.
In 1970, college football expanded its regular season schedule from 10 games to 11. Why? For the extra revenue an additional football game contributed to the athletic department budget. Same deal in 2006 when college football went to a 12th regular season game.
What people sometimes forget is that college football not only funds itself, but all aspects of an athletic department as well. Show me an athletic department without a financially viable college football program and I will show you an athletic department that is hard pressed to keep its head above water.
That is why everyone wants to be in one of the Power 5 conferences right now.
Have a great weekend!
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