MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Preseason camp begins Thursday for West Virginia, a four-week segue between summertime 7-on-7s and that daunting 11-on-11 against Alabama.
With bodies reshaped and mindsets remolded by an offseason of conditioning, now comes the chance to show who best can translate their torture time with strength coach Mike Joseph into on-the-field performance.
Noted senior receiver Kevin White, whose physique looks even more superhero-like than he did this time last year: “We like working out with Mike Joseph, but we’re kind of getting tired of doing that stuff. We’re looking forward to getting back to playing football.”
As the football part returns, here are questions to ponder during the dog days of August:
Can incoming quarterback William Crest rise up to No. 2?
Two summer takeaways from Dana Holgorsen regarding West Virginia’s quarterback situation: Clint Trickett will start and Skyler Howard will redshirt. That portends an interesting backup battle between senior Paul Millard and the four-star newcomer Crest.
Conventional wisdom holds that Millard—with 201 pass attempts spanning 18 career games and a demonstrated comprehension of the system—is the undisputed No. 2. Yet Crest’s arm and athleticism could be compensating factors. If the Baltimore product proves to be a quick learner and clearly surpasses Millard from a playmaking perspective, Holgorsen might forego a redshirt season and prep Crest for 2015 with on-field training.
Does Shaquille Riddick become a starter at defensive end or a pass-rush specialist?
The transfer had not been added the roster as of Wednesday—he wasn’t allowed to officially join the team until completing an online course at Gardner-Webb that finalized his undergrad degree. Yet Riddick could be the missing component for a defense that hasn’t bothered quarterbacks much the past two seasons.
“He’s physically as good as anybody else that we’ve got on our team,” Holgorsen said. “He’s 6-foot-6, 260 pounds and he’s quick off the edge. We need guys to come off the edge and sack the quarterback.”
The spring frontrunner at one defensive was fellow senior Dontrill Hyman, a 294-pounder whose hefty sack totals in junior college weren’t replicated during his first season at WVU. The other defensive end spot was being manned by converted nose tackle Christian Brown, who’s down from 304 pounds to 290 after exchanging spots with Kyle Rose at the behest of Tom Bradley.
Riddick figures to earn the nod over either backup (Eric Kinsey and Noble Nwachukwu) and could prove to be an every-down option if he shows the capacity to hold up against the run.
Will Wendell Smallwood face team disciplinary action?
Now that the state of Delaware dropped witness intimidation charges against the running back, will he face some form of internal reprimand from Holgorsen? Might Smallwood’s actions warrant a four-game suspension? Two games? Behind-the-scenes penalties in the form of early morning workouts?
It seems Smallwood made a sage late-game decision—possibly a career-saving decision—to cooperate with Delaware prosecutors who were chasing a murder conviction. Of course, that cooperation occurred after he was arrested and extradited. And there’s still the matter of those ill-advised phone calls he made to a Delaware prison last year, taped conversations that seemed rather incriminating until Smallwood pledged to testify against murder suspect Zakee Lloyd.
If athletes being tardy for meetings or missing classes carries consequences, you sense Holgorsen will have some disciplinary response here—though we might not learn the scope of it until the week of the season opener.
A surprise at linebacker?
The three starters appear set in stone in Nick Kwiatkoski (Mike), Isaiah Bruce (Sam) and Brandon Golson (Will). Yet we hear positive tidings about redshirt freshman Al-Rasheed Benton—whose body certainly shows the perks of a dedicated offseason—and junior college transfer Edward Muldrow, who possesses badly needed pass-rushing skills. Both backups are capable of pushing for playing time.
After all, on a defense that has been so disappointing the past two seasons, few positions can be entirely safe.