WVU’s Recruiting, Player Development Spur Ability To Reload, Not Rebuild
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – It’s nearing time for initial evaluations for West Virginia’s coaching staff.
The Mountaineers, thus far through only two practices in helmets, will have two in helmets and shoulder pads and two in full gear before an off day Saturday. That’s adequate time, head coach Dana Holgorsen said Wednesday, to have at least an initial idea of who fits where.
“We have a veteran group who knows how to practice pretty good,” Holgorsen said. “We got our work done and everybody is in a good place. The end of the (second summer) semester ends Friday, and we will really crank it up Thursday and Friday.”
Those will be full-contact practices, and the lengthy sessions will allow the staff to have a vague idea of who will fit where. There will be ongoing tweaks, obviously, but the depth chart will take its vague outline at that time. The reason for the comfort level? The Mountaineers have been in the same defense, with the same coordinator, for four full seasons, and they’ve developed the needed depth on all sides of the ball to begin to reload as opposed to fully rebuild.
Holgorsen was particularly pleased with the defensive ability to reload, as it has over the last two seasons despite massive graduation and eligibility losses at linebacker and in the secondary. Holgorsen agreed with coordinator Tony Gibson in the consideration that this is among the more athletic total units on that side of the ball in recent memory. West Virginia has had experience. It had 29 seniors in 1993, and its 1996 and ’98 defenses were made up of a majority of upperclassmen who had already seen vast numbers of snaps. This is a mix of raw ability and the cognitive acuteness to make plays, a la a linebacker Brendan Ferns.
“They are athletic, but we’ve had athletic defenses in the past,” Holgorsen said. “The thing I like is that we have good leadership and a lot of experience. It looks like the same defense. That’s what’s exciting. How are we going to replace eight starters on defense? The same way we have in the last two years with guys who have been in the program and know what to do. I think our recruiting is continuously getting better with the type of bodies we bring in and now we don’t have to play those types of bodies. They have time to learn and they play when they are ready.”
West Virginia has also bettered its length, getting longer and taller bodies. That’s intentional; as along as a player’s skill set is the same, the Mountaineers will take the larger body every time.
Holgorsen also mentioned that along with the addition of greater number of transfers, there’s an increased need to educate the players on the history of the program and what WVU football means to the state of West Virginia as a whole.
“We go through the core values of the program which is everything from what is expected of them to what the traditions are to the state of West Virginia,” he said. “It’s every aspect of what these guys need to know. Right now, every afternoon at 3:30 we have a coach get up and cover an area of the program and then get a player who has been here cover what it means to them. It’s fun to watch that. We have to make a conscious effort.”
Holgorsen also said he expects quarterback Will Grier to benefit from the year off. That might seem an obvious statement. but Holgorsen went as far as to say if Grier lined up last year there would have been much grumbling about the quality of play.
“Now Will understands everything, the team, the offense,” Holgorsen said. He is in a good place. The quarterback spot, it does them good.”
- Holgorsen, on leadership: “That’s what makes a big difference, guys who are vested in what we are doing and can relay that to our younger guys. There are all kinds of books written on leadership. Sometimes really good players are bad leaders and really bad players are good leaders. The four guys I took to (Big 12) media days I consider leaders. Two (Kyzir White and Justin Crawford) are transfers. Two are fifth-year seniors (in Al Benton and Eli Wellman). I consider those guys leaders.”
- On offensive line coach Joe Wickline mentoring his son, Kelby: “He’s probably harder on Kelby than anybody. That’s his nature. I’d be harder on Logan than anybody else. Kelby is doing good. He;s a smart kid who is still developing as a football player because he hasn’t played much. That’s why Wick sent him to junior college last season, so he could play football as opposed to sitting.”
- On when football, as a full-contact sport, should begin to be played at the youth level: “I don’t think football needs to be played until you’re in ninth grade as kids grow up for a number of reasons.”
- On West Virginia testing far above where it has in the past in terms of strength and conditioning: “That doesn’t always equate to wins, though I think we have top-end talent. Mike Joseph calculates numbers. Height, weight, speed, strength, quickness. We have way more of those (elite) guys in the program now. We were usually sitting around four to five and we have two and three times that many now. Part of that’s recruiting, but Mike trains them as well as anybody in the country.”
- On if WVU’s offense has all the answers it might need in a season: “I do. We have to log the reps and keep moving forward and improve. Lot of things go into wins. We have to stay healthy, ball has to bounce our way. Lot of things. But we’re off to a good start.”
- On the most impressive players after one day in pads: “(Brendan) Ferns has been good. Jake Long and Dylan Tonkery look good. I consider (Martell) Pettaway that same guy. He looks great. (Kennedy) McKoy looks good. Josh Sills has a chance to be a really good player for us. I’ll stop there.”