MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Because each thousand-mile journey begins with a single step, members of the West Virginia football team stepped through snow and ice Sunday toward the shelter of the Caperton Indoor Practice Facility, where spring practice began with the first of three non-contact workouts.

Based upon what we last saw of the Mountaineers—season-ending losses to 3-9 teams Kansas and Iowa State—it might appear WVU has more than a thousand miles to make up before staring across at Alabama on Aug. 30. Teams do transform themselves, however, and particularly veteran teams like the one coach Dana Holgorsen discussed while donning his vortex visor.

MORE: Holgorsen releases spring depth chart

“There shouldn’t be as much teaching these guys what to do, but how to do it properly,” Holgorsen said, “because we’ve got a lot more experience coming back than we did a year ago.

“Losing (rushing leader) Charles Sims and (TFL leader) Will Clarke is going to hurt, but other than that, we’re not losing much.”

Counting specialists, the Mountaineers bring back 17 players with starting experience (a total that could grow to 18 if cornerback Travis Bell earns reinstatement from indefinite suspension). Such continuity allows coaches to be more intricate … and more demanding.

“We’ll be less patient with mental mistakes,” Holgorsen said, noting that players “should have a handle on what we’re doing.

“That is why we are pretty eager to get started. We wanted to get these three days in to be able to introduce some stuff so when we come back (from spring break) we can get into the nuts and bolts of really being able to play the game. We were not able to do that last year until the middle of August.

With that, let’s segue to the always-trusty “five questions” format for organizing this spring’s most notable talking points. (We’d toss out more, but then what would be left to discuss between now and March 22, which is the next time we’ll be able to glimpse a practice?) To the list:

1. An unofficial return to the 3-3-5?
New defensive coordinator Tony Gibson still calls it a 3-4, but late last season West Virginia began migrating back toward a nickel-based defense. (See cornerback Daryl Worley opening at weakside Will linebacker against Iowa State).
Now there’s converted safety K.J. Dillon listed as the first-teamer at Spur linebacker—the spot Isaiah Bruce manned in 2013. Even the “bulked-up” current iteration of Dillon remains 30 pounds slighter than Bruce, who weighs in at 231 and has moved to the strongside Sam position.
This allows WVU to be more athletic and better suited to match the spread offenses so prominent across the Big 12. You would also presume it allows for more varied blitz packages.
If there’s a playing-time sacrifice, it appears to be junior linebacker Jared Barber (sidelined this spring while recovering from knee surgery). Barber started alongside Nick Kwiatkoski in the middle last fall and was the squad’s third-leading tackler with 71 stops, but now he projects as one of Kwiatkoski’s backups.
Against a pro-set team like Alabama, however, WVU can go back to four conventional-sized linebackers by deploying the 225-pound Marvin Gross at Spur, or by replacing the Spur with another run-stopper in the middle—see Al-Rasheed Benton or Barber—in a more standard 3-4 alignment.
2. How will WVU use the Dreamius Smith/Rushel Shell combo?
Productive one-and-doner Charles Sims had 253 touches last fall, while the rest of West Virginia’s running backs combined for 159. Though Wendell Smallwood, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie share some of Sims’ pass-catching versatility, they don’t figure to command the carries that Smith and Shell will.
Can one grab the coaches’ fancy and emerge as a clear-cut No. 1? Even with West Virginia’s increasing affinity for two-back sets, it seems unlikely Smith and Shell will line up much together (save for an occasional short-yardage package).
Sporting only a combined 11 catches through 24 Division I games, they have yet to showcase receiving skills that would create coverage worries. Smith, however, displayed fluid route-running and soft hands last spring. And during one emphatic 75-yard run at Oklahoma, he showed an awesome power/speed combination.
That led running backs coach JaJaun Seider to give Smith a pointed offseason message: “If you ain’t playing on Sunday it’s your own fault.”
Yet the evaluation demanded Smith become more reliable by improving his blocking and running with more pop.
“If you watch what Dreamius did in the Oklahoma game, he ran behind his pads and then ran away from folks,” Seider said. “The thing that nobody talks about is Dreamius might be our fastest running back. Dreamius has got it all. But now, it’s about can he be consistent?
“I’ve been been showing him clips of what he can be and showing him clips of what he shouldn’t be, like when he stops his feet on contact. Hell, go forward for another 2 or 3 yards. His lower body is so strong, if he just falls forward he’s going to pick up the extra yards.”
3. Who’ll ring the Bell at cornerback?
Excuse the pun, especially with regard to a player who has been excused from the team. Yet Travis Bell was a nine-game starter, and considering that he played so much in his first year at the position, his ceiling would have been raised for 2014.
Then came last December’s DUI, which marked Bell’s second arrest in 10 months and made his status cloudy. After a team source told MetroNews earlier this week Bell would miss spring practice, Holgorsen clarified Sunday that Bell had been suspended since January and was allowed to remain on scholarship “to work toward his degree.”
Losing Bell is hardly a backbreaker, considering the immensely talented Worley supplanted him as a starter during three late-season games. Yet the possibility of Bell returning for his senior season can impact depth at a position where WVU still needs help. Icky Banks, merely functional as a 12-game starter at the opposite corner, returns for his senior year, and two other returnees—third-year sophomore Brandon Napoleon and redshirt junior Terrell Chestnut—have yet to establish themselves as Big 12-caliber players.
That leaves the window open for junior-college midterm enrollee Keishawn Richardson to make an impression. He already sounds like a favorite of cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell, who recruited Richardson away from a Wisconsin offer.
“He gets it—has a good football IQ,” Mitchell said. “It’s very rare that you have a young man come into for offseason program and not miss a rep. He has not missed any reps, and that’s like, ‘Wow.’
“We’re talking the sheer volume that we’re putting these guys through, stressing them at every opportunity. Usually kids that have not been in the program are not used to working at that pace that (conditioning coach) Mike Joseph is putting them through. But Keishawn hasn’t missed even one rep.”
Look for sophomore Nana Kyeremeh, coming off 2013’s medical redshirt, to be a factor also.
4. Will offensive tackles be improved?
While the Mountaineers must replace two fifth-year seniors at tackle, Curtis Feigt and Nick Kindler were guys revered more for their hard work than their dominant performances. So even with less experience at the position this time around, the upside of Adam Pankey and Marquis Lucas looks higher.
Pankey appeared at left tackle in seven games as a redshirt freshman and may have become a starter if not for last spring’s pesky ACL tear (from which he still returned in six months). At 6-foot-5 and 323 pounds, Pankey blends prototypical size with agility and doesn’t figure to be pushed by the likes of former walk-on Michael Calicchio or still-developing redshirt freshman Grant Lingafelter.
Lucas (6-4, 312) shifted to right tackle from left guard, where he was inconsistent in four starts before Quinton Spain moved inside. He will be challenged by lanky junior college transfer Sylvester Townes (6-6, 285) and redshirt freshman Marcell Lazard (6-6, 293), who entertained some high-profile offers before signing with WVU in 2013.
“Adam just got better and better last season, and Marquis played tackle before (in high school),” said offensive line coach Ron Crook. “It made sense to go with the guys who have been here and played in games and give them first shot.”
5. Can Skyler Howard get it done?
Some fans have become enchanted with Howard’s junior college highlight video, but is he a genuine threat to win the quarterback job or simply a guy brought in to add depth? (Remember: West Virginia was one blindside hit away from Logan Moore taking game snaps late last season, so the need to sign somebody was pressing.)
Despite his non-ideal height, the 5-11 Howard could be a gem, a guy with a Texas-sized chip on his shoulder who’s intent on proving wrong all the programs who ignored him despite productive high school numbers. Perhaps he’s capable of pushing injured frontrunner Clint Trickett. Then again, some folks held high hopes for Chavas Rawlins, too.
The upcoming spring practices will afford Holgorsen and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson a chance to stress Howard in game-like situations, to see what he can do and whether he truly belongs.
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Comments

  • Mountaineer Fanatic

    I believe we will be a lot better this coming year. Can't wait for the season to begin.
    I do agree, however, that it is very sad that the ladies basketball team did not get the head line for their great win. That was a great game. Lets Goooooo Ladies!!!!!!!

    • scott

      couldnt agree more and thanks for reminding me...great job girls...what a game.


      Lets goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo mountaineers!!!!!!

    • sput

      love the women's team but they don't pay the bills

      • Aaron

        Many Lady's basketball teams are more than self-sufficient. Which do you think carried Tennessee for many years, the women's team that sold out season after season or the men's team that Bruce Perle got put on probation a couple of times.

        Part of what gets teams to that status is the coverage they get. How can we expect instate talent to attend WVU when their parents can't read about them in the paper and on the web, much less see them play?

        Mike Carey has built a solid program but very few within Mountaineer Nation support them. Someone's going to hire him away and West Virginian's will have no one to blame bout ourselves for not supporting his teams.

        • WVHope

          I do not think we will lose Mike, one of the reasons for the improvement with the team is the ladies have their own facilities since the men moved into theirs..I believe only three schools in the nation can say the same thing. He has a good thing here and he knows it.

        • Barry

          I agree Aaron. Well said. Losing Carey would be terrible. I for one would love to see more coverage of the Lady Mountaineers.

          • pinball wizzard

            i concur

      • WSC

        Yes let's GOO Mountaineer Ladies!

  • pinball wizzard

    imo, the biggest problem we have, of course besides our terrible , terrible defense, is the qb position.
    we just are no better than last yr, we have no qb, for sure,, we have wantabes, but holgie certainly has let us down on the recruitng trail.
    Hopefully, Tom Bradley will be named head coach before the season gets underway, Holgie has proved he lost in managing the Div 1 football program
    Yes, drink thekool aid, and eat up all the bs that holgie is putting out, but what in the world would make us surprised this fall on a positve note.

    • Aaron

      "is the qb position."

      It seems the numbers do not bear out your assessment. Last years combination threw for 3,144 yards, a number surpassed only by Geno Smith twice and Marc Bulger once.

      Those pesky facts.

      • Aaron

        Let it be noted that you "uncuncur" lacking an intelligent argument based in reason and logic.

      • pinball wizzard

        i unconcur

    • Aaron

      I can't help but note all the "we's" which makes me wonder, what role do you hold within WVU? Are you a part of the football program specifically or of the University?

      • Mister Man

        Fans and students may use the word "we."

        • Aaron

          I believe it's a far too often abused term, particularly when individuals have blatantly demonstrated they are in no way, shape of form a fan of West Virginia University in the manner that numerous monikers who post on Metro News stories have.

      • pinball wizzard

        University

        • Aaron

          If you say so.

  • JustaFan

    I love football and am a season ticket holder, but don't you think the best WVU sports story to lead with today was last night's HUGE win the women's basketball had? I mean, they just pulled off a big upset, on the road, against a highly ranked opponent to capture a share of the Big 12 title. That should be headline news.

    • Allan Taylor

      @JustaFan: The women's win WAS the lead story from early evening until the football piece was published around 4 a.m. I'm a career newspaper guy, but you can't apply print-publishing timetables to websites.

      • Mister Man

        Spot on Allan.

    • TruthTeller

      Relax JustaFan if you as big of a fan as you claim to be then you should know by now that WVU never gets any credit for anything they do unless it is something bad. Then it goes viral all over the country and everyone just adds another stereo type to West Virginia and WVU. If you are a real fan you would know that. Its WVU against the nation of haters dude!!!

      • JustaFan

        Seriously dude, I get the sarcasm, but this is a STATE news service.

  • Howard Bush

    Woodchuck, I watched the women basketball team defeat Baylor on Fox Sports 1 yesterday @ 2:30.

  • jeepster

    "we'll be less patient with mental mistakes". Scrap,stay loose,you're gonna be going in for Holgs.

  • jay zoom

    the only five questions Holgerson will need is 1. will you win five games this year. 2. who will be your defensive coordinator next year. 3. do you think your job is secure for 2015 season. (if not) 4. who is the coach in waiting on the team. and last 5. is Oliver Luck still in the parking lot collecting $20.00 off the mountaineer faithful and passing out shots of MD 20 - 20 to get support for wine for the 2015 season if you and him are still here.

    • Aaron

      1) Yes
      2) Tony Gibson
      3) Yes
      4) Dana Holgorsen
      5) No, that bill died in the legislature.

      I ou missed your delightful on the basketball articles this weekend. Perhaps you will get lucky and the team you love to hate will lose to OK and you can inspire us with your comments over their as well.

      • pinball wizzard

        you can count? Being from logan i would think that you are one of their star pupils. Now i speak in rhetoric, do you concur?

        • Aaron

          Hamlin

          • Aaron

            Tell that to Chuck Yeager Hatter.

          • pinball wizzard

            sadder still

    • Mike

      Question # 6. Why are you here with your stupid post. You fit in with the MU posters.All the so called WVU fans that are never happy no matter what,just leave. Better yet send in you letters to OL and apply for a job. I mean you all could do much better than any coach we have. If you don't believe me just ask yourself. I bet that 90% of the WVU haters have never picked up a football let alone played or coached at any level. Like they say life is hard it is even harder when your stupid.

    • Yogi Wahoo

      5 Questions for Gomer Zoom 1) You looked surprised on Springer when you found out your date was a dude, but is that the 1st time? 2) When you were a waterboy did you keep the towels to smell? 3) Why didn't you get into WVU?...tell the truth 4) Does your mom know your on the computer? 5) Are you frustrated pitt will always su&#s ?

    • Mark

      I think MU is lookin for "fans"...feel free to head over that way.

      Let's go, Mountaineers!

    • Pac

      LOL!!!! Maybe we can switch Dana for Nick Saban when we play them....

    • Mister Wu

      Ha ha.

      You very funny man.

      ha ha

  • Woodchuck

    No coverage of WVU women's basketball defeating the 6th ranked team in the country???

    • Oh Did Ya?

      I saw at least 2 articles about it.

      • Aaron

        Nearly 4 hours after the end of the game and it looked like an AP copy. If Metro news has no one to travel with the women's team, blog and write stories, I'm available.

        • pinball wizzard

          what , to mop the floors/

          • Aaron

            How am I incorrect Allen? I am not trying to nitpick here but if you reread my post, you will see that I did not say Yahoo Sports or ESPN sent writers to the game. What I said was that both had write-ups on their sites long before Metro News posted anything. That is true. I know because I checked a couple of times. Yahoo’s article was their lead story on their women’s NCAAB page and was up within an hour of the game ending, ESPN’s followed shortly and Metro News poster their story two hours later.

            I realize that “web traffic and ticket sales dictate” the attention the women’s team gets from the news media and I am not trying to be negative or give you grief but given the magnitude of yesterday’s game, the state sports news media dropped the ball on their coverage of WVU Women’s basketball victory at Baylor. That includes Metro News but don’t worry, you guys are not alone. The Daily Athenaeum still does not have a story up regarding the monumental victory.

          • Allan Taylor

            @Aaron: You're incorrect. ESPN used the AP story, as it does with about 99 percent of its gamers. Yahoo also used AP—neither sent writers to Waco. If you wanna pick a fight about the coverage of women's basketball in this state, pick it with the ENTIRE list of state media outlets, not just us.

        • Allan Taylor

          As far as I can tell, no West Virginia news outlet traveled to Sunday's game in Waco. (Nor have any been on the road with the women this year.) Because of the travel required in the Big 12, a beat writer would frequently miss men's games to cover the women, and regardless of whether you think that's preferable, the web traffic and ticket sales dictate otherwise. All that said, the WVU women have put together an amazing run, and I'm sure outlets are making contingency plans to cover this team in the NCAAs.

          • Aaron

            I can't help but note Barry that 17 minutes before your above post, you were completely agreeing with my post that said the ladies do not get enough coverage.

            So which is it?

          • Barry

            Just give up Allan. Aaron is never wrong, and he has more time to post than anyone else, obviously.

          • Aaron

            So the game was big enough for Fox Sports to highlight in their showcase program, televise nationally, garner write-ups from ESPN and Yahoo sports but wasn't worthy of Metro News beat writer.

            Interesting.

  • Barry

    Great article. Very informative. I am thankful that this site has such good coverage of WVU Sports.

  • Toolman

    So the biggest concern is Dana's choice of attire, geez. How about this thought, since he calls the plays, think how hard it would be for the QB to locate him on the sideline if he were dressed like everyone else on the sideline.
    Some fans, and I use the term loosely, will never be happy regardless of who is our coach.

    • jeepster

      That's just an excuse. Holgy is very easy to spot on the sidelines.He is the one spitting, stomping,screaming,and generally just pouting like a 2 year old.

  • Mister G!

    6. Will Holgs wear blue-and-gold only at practice like he did yesterday, or will he don the team colors on game days as well?

    • WV Grad

      Coach H you look a lot better in blue and gold.

    • Allan Taylor

      And this is precisely why I capped it at five questions.

      • Allan Taylor

        Then again, it was Oscar night, so if you must bring up fashion, I suppose it's OK this once ...

  • Daniel

    I just hope the Crimson Tide takes it easy on us! I'm optimistic after that game, but this game is going to be UGLY!!! Hopefully Sabin will pull his starters in the second quarter and let the rest of his squad "scrimmage" against our starters. I'm an alumni and love everything about WVU, but this is still going to be UGLY!!!

    • Loyal fan

      You know, I remember some of the same comments prior to the Fiesta Bowl against OK and the Orange Bowl against Clemson, the Sugar Bowl against Ga - do I need to go on? I too think the State Sports Newtwork are lax on the Lady Mountaineers coverage. That was a huge win for the Program. Baylor's 3 Seniors had never lost a game at home before Saturday.