Building, Maintaining WVU Football Roster A Year-Round Job
As West Virginia football’s Director of Player Personnel, Ryan Dorchester has his hands in all aspects of building the Mountaineer roster. The outlines of the position are simple, but underneath there are numerous tasks that keep the job humming – and never-ending.
The mandate is basic: Allocate WVU’s 85 scholarships so that the roster has balance on Dana Holgorsen’s “three sides of the ball” description. But with that comes a host of challenges. Recruiting, which he still oversees with the help of two, and soon to be three assistants, is a major component. But so too is the ever-growing transfer game, where the Mountaineers have a decided focus in adding new talent. That has to be balanced against departures, some of which are encouraged, but some of which come as a surprise. Then there are in-house position changes, which often can’t be accounted for immediately. And unlike the professional ranks, there aren’t any trades or free agent signings once the season is underway. Add all of those up, and getting near the balance of 41 offensive, 41 defensive and 3 special teams scholarships is as much art as science.
That’s just the top tier of balance that’s considered. Numbers at each position also have to be sufficient, while maintaining enough fluidity to account for special circumstances. Say, for example, that the full ten or 11 scholarships for defensive line are already spoken for, but an outstanding transfer or prospect becomes available. Having to pass on such a player isn’t in the best interest of the program, so there has to be some wiggle room available.
Also included, for Dorchester’s view, is the future. It’s not just about building a roster for this year. He maintains charts for how the roster is shaping up for the next three years so as to plan recruiting allocations for the upcoming year and make decisions on how many players to take at each spot. It wouldn’t for example, make sense to take four safeties in a season where there’s only one graduate, or to recruit just two offensive linemen in a year that four or five are scheduled to depart. All of that is also debated and hashed out with the coaching staff, with Holgorsen of course having the final say.
If that’s not hard enough, there are also the vagaries of actions outside of recruiting season. Player moves, like the ones WVU made this spring, can’t be immediately accounted for. For example, defensive coordinator Tony Gibson moved Derrek Pitts from safety to cornerback, and Dylan Tonkery from will linebacker to mike. Logan Thimons made a move from defense to offense. Those changes are made for the good of the team, but they can’t be immediately addressed to keep the numbers in balance.
“A lot of times it’s the next year,” Dorchester said of the time frame when player moves or attrition can be responded to. “But when you make those position decisions, you aren’t moving a guy from one spot that will put that position in peril. You are taking it from one position that has some depth, that has some strength, and putting it in a place that you view as a weakness. It doesn’t really affect you in the here and the now, but in the next recruiting cycle, you adjust and go out and add another guy.”
The targets for numbers of players at each position isn’t an exact science. Dorchester notes that it’s very rare when the scholarships exactly hit the 41-41-3 goal, and it’s not a cause for concern when they don’t. First, as noted previously, player departures and moves can throw the balance off some. There are also walk-ons who often fill important roles, and while those don’t come into play on the scholarship counts, they are important parts of Dorchester’s larger mission of making sure there are enough players to fill each position on game days, and also to provide quality practice opposition. Thus, the chase for the “perfect” roster isn’t something that will ever come to fruition, simply due to the ever-changing dynamics caused by the wants, needs and events surrounding 110 players in the program. And even if it were achieved momentarily, it would change again the next time a move or departure or addition occurred. The idea, rather, is to be prepared for any eventuality.
One of the ways WVU is able to do that is with its schemes, especially on defense. With several positions that are quite similar in nature, there are always a handful of players who can man more than one spot. In the short term, that helps West Virginia fill gaps.
“Anybody that thinks our scheme is a problem just doesn’t understand,” Dorchester said of the criticisms that are sometimes levied against the 3-3 system employed by Gibson. “What we do gives us versatility. With safeties, the free and the bandit can be almost interchangeable, and they sit in the room and learn what the spurs do every singe day, so it does give you that type of versatility, where an injury allows you to get the next best player on the field, and not just the next best guy at that spot. We’ve had to do it with backers, we’ve had to do it with safeties and our corners. When we have good players and guys that are experienced in it, we can put a good defense on the field.”
That also extends to the offensive side, where some linemen can play both exterior or interior positions, or where a back like a Tevin Bush can get moved out to the slot. The individual numbers at each don’t have to be spot on – just close enough to make sure depth for games and competition for practice is fully in place.