Holgorsen’s Views: Another Spring Is In The Books
By Cam Huffman
Another spring is in the books – at least in college football terms.
West Virginia University head coach Dana Holgorsen is always quick to caution that spring is much different than fall and that a team’s true identity cannot be uncovered during 15 spring practices. But the seventh-year coach did admit he was happy with this year’s session, which concluded with the annual Gold-Blue Spring Game on April 15.
“We had a great crowd out there,” said Holgorsen after the spring game, which drew 6,315 fans to Mountaineer Field. “I thought our players attacked it the right way. We’ve had five long weeks of football, and this was kind of more like a reward for them to be able to go out in front of a lot of people and have a game atmosphere.”
Like any good college football coach, Holgorsen keeps one eye on the field and one eye focused on the future, which begins and ends with recruiting. WVU had numerous prospects on its sun-kissed campus for the spring game in mid-April, and Holgorsen said he was happy with the impression that the scrimmage made on the possible future stars. He pointed to having the sidelines packed with former Mountaineers, who are now in the NFL, as a major selling point.
“It was awesome to have those (recruits), and then having all the former players back is always something that I thoroughly enjoy,” West Virginia’s seventh-year coach explained. “Those guys mean a lot to the program, and it’s always good to have them back. I’m so happy with the way it turned out.”
One of the aspects that was particularly pleasing to Holgorsen was the play of junior quarterback Will Grier, a Florida transfer who has been the talk of the spring among both coaches and fans.
“He’s as good as advertised,” said Holgorsen of 6-foot-2, 204-pound QB from Davidson, N.C. “I just like the kid’s demeanor. I mean, he’s got complete control of the huddle. It’s going to be different when it’s live bullets and he can get hit. We’re obviously protecting him right now. There have been a bunch of spring games and spring practices here over the course of the last four years where I wasn’t protecting those quarterbacks, because I think it made (former quarterback) Skyler (Howard) better to get hit. Grier, we’re not going to let anybody come close to him, obviously.”
Though Grier has yet to take a snap in an actual game at West Virginia, he was part of the team in 2016 and took reps during practices. With that experience and now an entire spring under his belt, Holgorsen is happy with Grier’s understanding of the Mountaineer offense.
“He has a really good idea of what we want him to do offensively,” said Holgorsen. “His accuracy is outstanding. The one thing that you can’t see right now, because we’re protecting him, is his ability to be able to keep the play alive with scrambles and some quarterback run game. He’s better at that than you think, because you think since he’s got such a good arm he’s just a pocket guy. But he can move around and make some plays.
“If you watch that highlight tape from Florida, he’s running around making plays left and right. His dad is here, who is a coach, and said, ‘Dana, you’ve got to make sure that he scrambles to throw because he gets so competitive, he scrambles to run and we’ve got to protect him.’ So we’ve been coaching that pretty hard.”
Judging by the statistics from the spring game, it appears as though Grier has quickly found a favorite target in junior wide receiver David Sills, who’s back in Morgantown as a receiver after trying his hand at quarterback at a junior college last season. Grier connected on 12 of his 18 passes for 202 yards, and six of those completions went to Sills, who took them for 96 yards.
“He’s our most valuable guy right now, which is not surprising,” said Holgorsen of Sills. “He’s been doing it every day for 15 days. David has a starting quarterback mentality. He’s extremely, extremely football smart. I knew that when I recruited him, and so that rubs off on the guys in the huddle. That connection has been fun to watch, and over the course of the next two years, it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.
“David is going to keep getting better. He’s committed to playing receiver now, and he gets better every day. He’s disappointed in himself right now because he didn’t make a couple of the plays that he thought he could have. I thought it was a pretty good spring game for him.”
While Grier is working on developing a rapport with his receivers, Holgorsen is adjusting to the communication with new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, the first person other than Holgorsen to handle the offensive playcalling for the Mountaineers since Holgorsen’s arrival in 2011.
“We’re in constant communication about what needs to happen and where we’re at and what we need to call and what the game plans are,” the coach explained. “That’s not going to change. The thing that will be different in the game are the headsets and stuff. We had a delay of game where we were going for it on fourth down, where it’s going to be a little easier when I’m in his ear and I’m saying, ‘you’ve got two downs here,’ or, ‘be thinking about fourth down.’ Any time you get around that 30- or 40-yard line, that’s going to be something that’s going to be possible.
“We’re on the same page right now; I’m not worried about that. The game management, the sideline stuff, communications, we need headsets in order to get that done, which we don’t need to be worried about that right now.”
Communication wasn’t a problem when Holgorsen inserted some former players into the game for the final play. With Kevin White and others on the field, Geno Smith, who’s now with the New York Giants, hooked up on a perfectly thrown long ball to Shelton Gibson, who’s waiting to hear his name called in the upcoming draft, much to the delight of the fans.
“I got bored there in the fourth quarter,” admitted Holgorsen about putting in the alums. “I’m sitting there looking at the sidelines going, ‘He’s made a whole bunch of plays. He’s made a whole bunch of plays. He’s made a whole bunch of plays.’ They’ve never played together, so I said, ‘Jake, get those guys together and put them out there.’
“What I was shocked about was (former safety) K.J. Dillon, who talks more trash than anybody I’ve ever met. He talks trash to me. He didn’t get out there. He and Rasul Douglas were sitting right there. Both of them are extremely competitive and loved talking trash. I can’t believe they didn’t jump out. But then I remembered that K.J. hurt his knee (towards the end of his rookie season with the Houston Texans), so I understood why he wasn’t out there.
“But that was fun. Geno came to the sideline and goes, ‘Man, I knew No. 1 (Gibson) could run, but I didn’t know he could run that fast.’ And he didn’t even stretch.
“Those guys mean a lot to me and the program, and I love having those guys back. They rub off on a lot of the younger guys. I mean 90 percent of that team doesn’t know Geno, never seen him before. So it’s good to have those guys back.”
Unfortunately for Holgorsen, he won’t have those former Mountaineers at his disposal this coming fall, but he does expect to have a few more weapons in his arsenal than those that were available for the spring game.
“I think we’re going to be a completely different team in late August than we are right now,” said Holgorsen. “You guys know my injury policy right now (as he isn’t discussing players not on the field), but there are 20 guys in the weightroom that were not able to participate. All those guys will be back, and the long-term guys with Ka’Raun (White) and Dravon Askew-Henry and Yodny Cajuste really honestly could’ve played, but what’s the point?
“I know where we’re at, and I know we can’t get any better until we get three months down the road. And then we will kind of look and see what we’re good at and (what) we’re not good at. I don’t really have the answers for that.”