10 burning questions this spring
Published: Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 23:03
1) How quick will Holgorsen's offense begin to look like Holgorsen's offense?
Implementing an offensive scheme is rarely easy at any level, but Holgorsen said he's rarely had troubles installing his offense. Typically, he said, it takes three days to fully install, although the team's chemistry and timing will be the main factor to when the offense begins to click.
"This offense isn't hard to learn, it's not hard to grasp, and it's not hard to retain," Holgorsen said. "But, that doesn't make you good."
Additionally, the offensive staff has the obstacle of dealing with a banged-up quarterback after starter Geno Smith had offseason foot surgery, as well as two starters missing from the offensive line.
Working in the team's favor, though, is the fact that all but newly hired wide receivers coach Daron Roberts have been an offensive coordinator in a system similar to the one WVU will run this season.
2) Which backup quarterback will set himself apart in spring camp?
The backup quarterback position is likely the biggest worry for Holgorsen and his staff after the transfers of Jeremy Johnson and Barry Brunetti left the Mountaineers with just one scholarship quarterback.
Freshmen Brian Athey and Paul Millard are both on campus and will participate in spring drills. Both are completely different style quarterbacks with completely different high school backgrounds. Millard, who was one of the nation's leading passers last season, is the early favorite to earn the spot, but don't count out Athey just yet.
3) How much, if at all, will Smith's foot injury limit his progress?
For the second straight season, Smith had foot surgery in the offseason and will be limited during spring camp.
However, last season Smith already knew and was comfortable with the offense under former offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen. But being limited at all this spring will cost the junior, who statistically compiled one of the best seasons in school history a season ago, even more with the installation of Holgorsen's new offensive scheme.
4) How will WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel replace Chris Neild?
More so than any other player, Neild was the staple at nose tackle that made last year's top-10 defense so successful. The all-American didn't rack many eye-popping statistics, but he plugged holes others couldn't.
Finding Neild's replacement isn't going to be a simple task for the Mountaineers, and it may be something that won't be decided until the fall. In the running for the spot is junior Jorge Wright and senior Josh Taylor along with redshirt freshman Trevor Demko.
5) Will big backs Shawne Alston and Ryan Clarke have a role in the new scheme?
Clarke was almost guaranteed a conversion on third-down rushing attempts last season, while Shawne Alston overcame knee problems and developed into a reliable back with the potential to enlarge his role into an every-down back.
Both could be in danger of not having a role in Holgorsen's new offense, as the new offensive coordinator has rarely utilized big backs in his previous offenses.
6) Who will be the leaders of this year's defense?
Seven seniors, including four NFL Combine invites, were lost from WVU's 2010 defense, leaving only defensive end Julian Miller, corner Keith Tandy, safety Terence Garvin and linebacker Najee Goode to pick up the
Bruce Irvin will join Miller along the defensive line, while the nose tackle spot is still up in the air. Sophomores Doug Rigg and Branko Busick, along with junior transfer Josh Francis, are expected to help fill in the linebacker holes while senior Casey Vance also should see time.
Tandy and Garvin will lead the secondary, while Eain Smith, Pat Miller and Brantwon Bowser will likely also start. Brodrick Jenkins and redshirt freshmen Ishmael Banks and Travis Bell also should see time.
7) Can Irvin develop into an every-down player?
Irvin was described as a "hero" by Casteel in early March. If the senior can develop into a every-down player for the Mountaineers, Casteel will sing his praises even more.
Irvin finished second in the nation in sacks a year ago, despite mainly only playing on third-down and obvious passing situations. Casteel will be throwing Irvin in full time this spring in hopes he can improve on those numbers even more.
8) Can Tyler Bitancurt return to form?
Bitancurt was nearly a sure thing as a freshman, but he struggled greatly as a sophomore. The Springfield, Va., native made just 10-of-17 field goals last season, finishing the season 0-of-3 including two misses in WVU's bowl loss to N.C. State.
If the Mountaineers look to make noise in the Big East Conference this season, Bitancurt has to return to his old self and become consistent once again.
9) What will be Tavon Austin's role in the new offensive scheme?
Austin broke onto the scene last season and developed into a do-it-all player for the Mountaineers. Now, Holgorsen has a choice to make. Austin caught 58 passes for 787 yards and eight touchdowns as a receiver last season but is originally a tailback.
Holgorsen has admitted he might play Austin in the backfield, but that largely depends on how incoming freshmen running backs Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison perform once they enroll at WVU in the fall.
10) How similar will the coaching styles of the new offensive staff be compared to Stewart's and the defensive staff's style?
On the field, the differences in coaching philosophies between the two sides of the ball may matter little. But comparing and contrasting the two styles will certainly be an aspect to keep an eye on.
Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel and his staff have always been known to be hard on their players, while Jeff Mullen's staff last season was more soft spoken unless an occasion forced them to act otherwise.
One thing is for sure – Casteel and Holgorsen pride themselves on being efficient with practice time, an aspect WVU head coach Bill Stewart masters.