Last week Big East media members picked West Virginia University’s football team as the favorite to win the league title in 2011. On Friday new head football coach Dana Holgorsen went to work trying to put the pieces together that could win that title. Friday was the day fall football practice began for the Mountaineers.
There will be no shortage of things to watch as fall camp progresses toward the September 4 season opener with Marshall. Last week we mentioned the quarterback dilemma that Holgorsen will face since the transfer of Brian Athey left the Mountaineers with just two quarterbacks entering fall camp. Holgorsen, fresh off offensive coordinator stints at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State says he has never began the season with less than five quarterbacks on the roster.
Holgorsen says the situation will be addressed, but the reality is the Mountaineers will be very shorthanded at quarterback in 2011. West Virginia’s Geno Smith is one of the top signal callers in America, but an injury could spell disaster. Keep fingers crossed Mountaineer fans.
Another area of interest will be Jeff Casteel’s defense. Last year Casteel produced one of the top defenses in the country, but now he is faced with the task of replacing seven starters from that unit. With Holgorsen’s highflying offense expected to be very productive, the early speculation is that opposing teams will want to play ball control offense to keep the WVU offense off the field.
Not many doubt that WVU will field an adequate defense, but can Casteel put together a unit capable of keeping a team like LSU from controlling the tempo of a game? While fall practice is the time to put the pieces together it may take several games to figure out just what WVU has on the defensive side of the ball.
Perhaps the most interesting battle for a job will be for the running back spot. Holgorsen’s depth chart lists one running back position and four wide receiver positions. There is no tight end or fullback position listed. One would assume there will be a couple of two back formations seen from time to time, but let’s assume there will be just one guy in the lineup to run the football, at least from the backfield.
West Virginia has had its share of 1,000-yard running backs dating back to the Don Nehlen era and with the departure of Noel Devine, the question is who will be the next 1,000-yard back at WVU? There is a real chance there won’t be one in 2011. Not necessarily, because there isn’t a back in camp capable of reaching 1,000 yards, but because at this point it looks like we could see more of a running back by committee approach by this offensive staff.
There is no shortage of candidates for the job and that is why the competition for the position is so compelling. Shawne Alston and Ryan Clarke return with experience, but neither is found on the three deep depth chart as camp begins. Interestingly, true freshman Vernard Roberts is listed as first followed by Daquan Hargrett and Trey Johnson. Roberts graduated from Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. early so he could participate in spring drills and turned enough heads to get the top spot coming out of spring. Hargrett and Johnson are each sophomores.
Two other true freshmen come to fall camp with more impressive resumes than did Roberts, who many thought was part of a package deal with his more highly rated twin brother Vance, a defensive back. Jacksonville, Florida’s Andrew Buie was widely considered to be the prize of the recruiting class and will undoubtedly get a chance to impress the coaches. Then there is Dustin Garrison from Pearland, Texas.
Garrison would seem to be under recruited and his weight of 165 may be the reason the Texas schools weren’t in hot pursuit. No matter here, this is a kid many can’t wait to see. Texas is arguably known as the top state for high school football and Garrison led his team to a 16-0 record and the 5A state championship. 5A is Texas’ largest classification. Against the best competition high school football can provide, Garrison rushed for 2,842 yards as a senior and had over 200 yards seven times. His high school highlight films rival those of Devine and current WVU wide out Tavon Austin.
What about Alston and Clarke? Both looked very promising as runners although Clarke’s fumbling woes seem to have set him back. Both are also bigger backs than the newcomers, so while they may not see the top of the depth chart, there could be short yardage carries for them. Perhaps their demotion is for motivational purposes, who knows? It would seem to the layman that if WVU has a stable of backs better than Alston and Clarke, then that would be a good thing.
There may be evidence that the spring depth chart is cosmetic as it was just learned that Hargrett will transfer. That alleviates the log jam at running back a little and it also indicates Hargrett must not feel like he can remain the number two back.