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Dana Holgorsen and WVU concluded last season’s 7-6 campaign with a Pinstripe Bowl loss to Syracuse.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Some 71 days after West Virginia was seared by Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl, spring football practice begins Sunday with the two-deep roster in a free-for-all and several new members of the coaching staff requiring some orientation as well.

This may not sound like the preferred recipe for a top 25 team heading into the 2013 season, but as that snowy night in the Bronx revealed, the star-laden 2012 team didn’t measure up to WVU’s standards. So fresh faces, and a more disciplined climate surrounding the program, could help the Mountaineers exceed rebuilding-year expectations.

Here’s a Q&A as WVU takes to the field today for the first of 15 spring workouts:

Will a quarterback win the job during spring practice?
Dana Holgorsen and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson sound intent upon pushing the competition into August, giving coaches the maximum time to evaluate not only the skill sets but also the leadership qualities of junior Paul Millard and redshirt freshman Ford Childress.

Joe Sadlek/All-Pro Photography

Junior Paul Millard is competing for the quarterback job against Ford Childress.

Barring a serious injury to one of Texas-born quarterbacks, the Mountaineers should exit the April 20 spring game with the race ongoing.

“It breeds more competition in the summer,” Dawson said. “The moment you make a decision, the competition is over.”

Millard is 16-of-34 passing during two seasons of mop-up duty behind Geno Smith, but by no means is he the automatic heir apparent. Childress had a pressure-free year soaking up the offensive system, and at 6-foot-5, he’s three inches taller than Millard.

“To sit here and tell you that one guy’s ahead of another guy would’t be fair, and I wouldn’t want to blow one guy’s head up like that,” said Dawson, unwilling to tip his hand as to which candidate holds the early edge.

Even though WVU must replace a near-legendary three-year starter who threw for 11,662 yards and figures to be the first quarterback taken in the NFL draft, that’s all white noise. Holgorsen and Dawson believe the system is sound enough to plug in a successor who need not worry about measuring up to Smith’s numbers.

“Geno was a special player, and all these guys have different sets of abilities. It doesn’t mean they can’t be as successful in the system, it’s just that they might look a little different,” Dawson said.

“Plus, at the end of the day, the ultimate goal is to win games, and we didn’t win that many games last year even with Geno, Stedman (Bailey) and Tavon (Austin). So let’s go out there and win some more games.”

Are the coaching staff shakeups cause for concern?
As of last Tuesday, Dawson was preparing to pinch-hit as running backs coach after Robert Gillespie took a job at Tennessee. By Friday, however, Holgorsen hired Marshall’s JuJuan Seider, a former WVU player and grad assistant who’s cramming to learn the offense same as the incoming recruits.

Courtesy photo/Marshall University

JuJuan Seider was hired as West Virginia’s running backs coach on Friday, 48 hours before the start of spring practice.

Gillespie’s departure followed the post-Signing Day exit of offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh for Oklahoma, two later-than-usual moves that left Holgorsen scrambling and his staffers taken aback by the timing.

“I can’t ever remember coaches being offered jobs a week before spring football,” said defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. “It seems like (the hiring moves) started earlier and went later this year.”

So the Mountaineers staff was faced with rapidly developing chemistry as it welcomed Seider and new offensive line coach Ron Crook. By comparison, WVU’s hiring of safeties coach Tony Gibson in January seems lightyears ago.

“The way college football is right now — I mean, how many guys have had two jobs already since their season’s been over? It’s getting ridiculous,” Gibson said.

After only six weeks working under Holgorsen, Gibson said the head coach is facilitating the kind of environment assistants appreciate.

“What I think Coach Holgorsen has done, just in the month and a half I’ve been here, is change the culture,” Gibson said. “He has taken ideas from everybody and he’s asking us what we think from the outside looking in. I think the kids see that.

“We have a good time but we work hard. We didn’t take any time off after Signing Day, so we’ve been getting after it. I think we’ve got a good thing going. I’m ready to take it out on the field and get rolling.”

Who’s injured?
Two players coming off surgeries — receiver Dante Campbell (shoulder) and cornerback Terrell Chestnut (knee) — have been ruled out for spring.

Meanwhile, cornerback Avery Williams and linebacker Jewone Snow will be held out of some contact practices.

Offensive lineman Pat Eger (ankle) and linebacker Wes Tonkery (foot) are expected to be limited in early workouts before returning to full participation later in the spring.

Who’s on the move?
Eger, frequently overmatched at right tackle last season, shifted to guard the final three games . This spring, he’ll also take some reps at center, where four-year starter Joe Madsen is gone and two signees — junior-college player Stone Underwood and prep standout Tyler Tezeno — aren’t reporting until summer.

On defense, Gibson said Darwin Cook will return to his Bandit safety position, but don’t be surprised to see the senior taking reps at the hybrid Star linebacker spot vacated by Terence Garvin. Linebacker Shaq Petteway has the athleticism to play multiple linebacker spots.

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  • Brandon

    @Big Larry- You lost your credibility when you said we would lose against WVU Tech..Go back to work in the mail room loser.

  • Moon

    Well the basketball team is going to win out.....will they have 15 wins then?

  • Chris

    Dont underestimate Coach Patterson and the defensive staff.

    Or better yet do then hop on the train midway down the track and act like you were there all along.

    Some weak fans out there. Marshall is looking for some support.

  • JWG66

    WVU was very close to several more W's last year. Seriously, with a stop in a key spot or a turnover, we could have had those W's. To me, the key next year is the development of a replacement for Geno and improved play from our D (both the secondary and the DL need to tighten up). I don't know how anyone can predict next year as so many changes hit all teams in a conference. But win or loose, I pull for WVU and all the coaches and players who put so much into the program. Go Mountaineers!

  • Big Larry

    What part of..."They will be rebuilding everything from scratch" did you not understand? That does not equate to ..."pleasant surprises...High Hopes...A turn around...we will surprise people...we will win 8 games..."

    Sorry, but there is no cause for any optimism whatsoever. And that is not being negative nor does it make me any less of a fan. It’s just stating cold hard facts…The team is starting all over. They couldn’t beat WV Tech right now. It is what it is. If you think otherwise you are just setting yourself up for a letdown later.

    Last year, WVU’s defense was the football equivalent of not being able to walk and chew gum at the same time. It was incongruous against Big 12 competition and this year’s offense will be even worse. Wishing the team success on my part will not make them a better team.

    Those living in denial will never see the reality. They prefer to live in a make-believe world where they think everything is "Sunshine and Roses". Do you remember the feeling you had at the Kansas State beat down? Well get ready for more of the same and welcome once again to the Big 12.

    And yes, “incongruous” is a word…

    • Alum

      There is objectivity and then there is overblown negativism; you follow the latter course.

  • tw eagle

    if the Mountaineer D can find two more players who will play with the same passion and intensity as joseph and bruce , WVU football should be a very pleasant surprise this fall . . .

  • Allan Jones

    This coming football season will be an exciting one because I have no expectation other than playing the best football we can. We do have many holes to fill and that's exciting too, to be awakened and surprised to see players step up. Tavon, Stedman and Geno were a great combo, but another one will come along..maybe not the same, but equally as electrifying and entertaining. But through all of this, if we don't have a great offensive line we won't do well. I think those guys don't get enough credit, they should interview them more often after games instead of the clamour positions. On the other side of the ball, offensive wins games, defense wins championships...we need a great defense coaches, so get it done.

  • Matt

    Here's a though lil Larry, we could give a rats hind quarters about your opinion, so your entitled to keep ur jaws closed. As for our team, I love the new build of our staff and players, are we back, no will we win 8 yes, take that to Larry's bank and cash something that will actually clear. Still 2 years out of our original powerhouse form, good luck coach Holgerson and team.

  • chad

    For the first time in a long time I have no expectations for the team. Whatever the final records turns out to be I will not be suprised or disappointed. This year feels like a true fresh start for WVU football and I like it.

  • Foddaz

    I hope big Larry becomes a Notre Dame fan

    • hailey

      He is a Marshall fan

      • Alum

        Or a pitt troll.

  • Foddaz

    It is no wonder our teams do bad under pressurea with such negative fans

    • Wemakerain

      I'm with you, I cheer thick or thin, not just complain whether we are doing well or poorly. What do I know, I'm just trying to be a decent human being

  • Helen5844

    I have high hopes for this new team. They just may shock a lot of people. If we take one game at a time we can win them all, however, we could lose any one of them. We should never think we are too good to lose or not good enough to win. We Are The Mountaineers.
    Also I would like to congratulate the Rifle team. Great job.

  • Big Larry

    The WVU football program is basically starting all over this season. The offense must be completely rebuilt from scratch. The defense has one good returning player (Joseph) that is if he can stay out of jail.

    The good news is that defensive guru Joe Deforest has been demoted. The bad news is that the worst defense in the nation is returning. Will the new defensive coordinator be able to save the day? What do you think?

    Will Dana “The Man in Black” Holgorsen be able to construct a team from nothing into one that will be respectable in the Big 12? What do you think? Are miracles still possible? Yes …but in this case not likely or probable.

    I predicted the WVU Basketball team would not win 15 games…they won 13. WVU will be hard pressed to win five (5) games this upcoming football season. You can take that to the bank and cash it in. It is what it is…

    Anyway, that’s just my opinion and I think everyone is entitled to hear it.

    • hailey

      Big Larry, fair assessment.... I think IF all falls our way and if the offense is better than average ( big IF) they could win 6 games. Heck no matter what I think this season will be more enjoyable than last season, the mid season meltdown was crushing to all who follow the Mountaineers.

    • DWM

      Larry I'm not sure you know the definition of "entitled". However if you said we had no choice but to read your opinion, it would appear you would be nearly correct.

    • Hoffy

      Oh brother! Methinks you think too much of yourself...
      I feel so much better now that I know I've been entitled!

    • Big Skinny

      Soooooo, what you're saying is that you "know" all there is to know about WVU and that you are sure that the football team will struggle because the basketball team did?

      Makes perfect sense.

      • Alum

        Surprise, surprise. It's typically lil' larry speak.

    • Harley Stollings

      Back off Joseph. He was not under the influence. Drivers under 21 are not permitted any alcohol. What did he do that you never did?