Holgorsen Likes Confidence, Defensive Improvement As WVU Football Heads Into Offseason Program
West Virginia head football coach Dana Holgorsen knows he’s dealing from a position of strength in terms of having the most proven quarterback in the Big 12 Conference going into the 2018 season. But he notes that the established position of Will Grier in the No. 1 spot on the depth chart isn’t exactly a new occurrence.
With Big 12 quarterbacks like Baker Mayfield, Mason Rudolph, Kenny Hill and Nic Shimonek departing following the 2017 season, WVU had the advantage of returning the best QB in the league for 2018. Grier was obviously in the starting spot from the first day of spring practice, but that hasn’t been a rarity for the Mountaineers.
“We’ve known who the starter was going to be (in the spring) about the last five years,” Holgorsen observed.
Without listing them by name, Grier had already secured the job prior to the 2017 season, while Skyler Howard (2015-16), Clint Trickett (2-14) and Geno Smith (2011-12) were all unthreatened during their tenures. That allowed WVU a comfort level, but also just moved the focus at the position elsewhere.
“You feel real good when you have a fifth-year guy, but that makes our challenge the next guy and the next guy,” Holgorsen said of depth at the quarterback position. “You saw what happened last year late [with the injury to Grier] . You have to have the next guy go in and play at a high level. No one wants to hear those excuses that your quarterback was hurt.”
While it wasn’t the only reason, the loss of Grier contributed mightily to the three-game losing streak that closed the 2017 season. Not that he needed any further motivation, but missing those three games has stoked a further fire to improve over the off-season.
“If you ask (Will), all he’s going to talk is efficiency,” Holgorsen said. “But I like how he makes everyone around him better. He’s coaching guys on the field, he knows where the other 10 guys on the field are supposed to be on the field. It helps us from a coaching perspective.”
On the defensive side, Holgorsen praised the job done by defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, and pushed back against the off-season narrative of the defense in general, and the defensive line in particular, as weak points. Gibson, entering his fifth season as the head of the defensive corps, has been masterful in plugging gaps and assembling units that can hold up in the offense-heavy Big 12.
“People questioning our defense is nothing new, but Coach Gibson has done one of the best jobs in college football over the past half decade,” Holgorsen said. “I liked our progress on that side this spring. I feel better about our defensive line now than at any time last year.”
Holgorsen also highlighted some mid-year enrollees who grabbed attention during spring practice, while also pointing out that more help is on the way from freshmen expected to enroll in July.
“We have had about seven midterm guys come in on defense, and maybe the one who made the most noise during the spring is Charlie Benton at outside linebacker. I like where he is,” explained Holgorsen, who is heading into his seventh season at WVU. “Josh Norwood at safety is a guy that will help us. Keith Washington at cornerback broke a finger and missed the last week of spring, but he will help us.”
Offensively, the personnel needs weren’t as pressing, but Holgorsen has seen some players who could augment what is expected to be a good attack.
“We are anticipating new guys helping us,” he said, discussing the additions of a pair of transfers who sat out the 2017 season. T.J. Simmons had a good spring, and Jovanni Haskins gives us a new dimension (at tight end. And (Alec) Sinkfied at running back, he has twitch that I haven’t seen since I’ve been here.”
Sinkfield, who redshirted in 2017 as a true freshman, had the coaches toying with playing him last season before ultimately deciding to preserve a year of eligibility.
Add those hoped-for improvements up, and Holgorsen sees his team carrying itself with pride and some moxie.
“I think we are a confident group,” he summed up. “Anytime you have as many starters coming back, you should be better, and in a better place with timing and schemes and all those things. We’re another year better with Jake (Spavital) calling plays and with (Joe) Wickline on the offensive line. Nothing replaces ‘another year’.”