Mountaineers Methodical In Building Offensive Foundation This Spring
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – It might not always win the race, but West Virginia is betting that a slow and steady foundation will set the squad up for greater success in the long run.
That’s been the approach in the early spring as the Mountaineers move at a methodical, calculated pace in teaching fundamentals, technique and other basics before layering on more complex concepts. Called a “heavy teaching spring” by head coach Dana Holgorsen, WVU is looking at both overall development and establishing the intricacies of aspects like footwork, hand placement, proper stance and tackling technique and more.
Those areas have been delved into over the first five practices, and will be honed further entering Thursday, when West Virginia drills for the final time – perhaps in full pads – before the March 10-17 spring break.
“It’s been pretty similar to what we’ve always done, but I think what coach (Jake) Spavital and what coach Holgorsen have done is we’ve kind of slowed it down even to a slower crawl,” offensive line coach Joe Wickline said. “Let’s make sure that we’re having quality practices on the back end. If you hurry it on the front end, you spend most of your time in the middle, trying to get done what you should have gotten done before it started. The advantage that we have recognized is slowing it down a little bit from a thud, hit, whatever standpoint, and there’s a lot more teaching and learning going on in this phase.”
If that reads as a bit of a surprise, one can understand why. WVU returns seven starters, including a veteran quarterback in Will Grier and a line that has extensive starting experience at the tackle spots with Yodny Cajuste (19 starts) and Colton McKivitz (23 starts). It also brings back center Matt Jones and left guard Josh Sills, as well as Gary Jennings and David Sills at receiver. Even at running back, where Justin Crawford departed, Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway add a solid swath of talent, while freshman Alec Sinkfield looks to break into the rotation.
With that level of experience and playing time, why hit the brakes during the spring? As Wickline noted, West Virginia has discovered that a more systematic and protracted building of the base creates greater long term returns. No team, after all, wins championships in the spring. But they can certainly set the program’s infrastructure for the season, which should allow for a sound start to summer conditioning and fall camp.
“Now, when we get back (from spring break) we’ll move forward,” Wickline said. “So, from the installation standpoint, we’ve been slow and deliberate, but it has gone well. The process has been similar to what we’ve always done in the past. We have a program where you put in portions of the offensive, whether it be run game, pass game, the way you audible something.”
Keep in mind that even with a veteran group overall, the Mountaineers still must develop a back-up quarterback in either Jack Allison – the odds-on favorite – or Trey Lowe III, find a replacement for Kyle Bosch at guard, and begin to identify which of the wideouts will emerge from a group which includes Reggie Roberson, Marcus Simms, Tevin Bush and Alabama transfer T.J. Simmons. Add all that to working in the tweaks Spavital has made involving greater usage of the tight end talent in Trevon Wesco and former Miami recruit Jovani Haskins, and the plate is more than full for the 15 practice sessions available.
“It’s more of adding extra checks to what we did last year,” Spavital said of any significant offensive changes. “Last year, we were big on if you called a run play, then this would be, ‘Is that a good run play?’ and then look for your (run-pass option). Then, we would end up maxing up (in protection) and throwing. Now it’s ‘What’s the situation with the game?’ Do we need to hand the ball off in this situation? Do I have an efficient RPO that I can get to? Is the best situation to mix it up and throw deep?’
“It’s been some really good conversations in terms of what runs work in certain fronts and when to hand it off and when to throw it. I think that (Grier) is enjoying spring that way because it’s actually very challenging for him. We’ll go out there and say, ‘This is first-and-10 mentality,’ or ‘This is third-and-short mentality.’ He’s got to find a way to get the first down. So, it’s been pretty efficient so far.”