MORGANTOWN - West Virginia wasn't 15 minutes into its first spring football practice Sunday when newly-appointed offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson watched player after player drop balls during a receivers drill."That's the way to go,'' Dawson said sarcastically. "Way to catch the ball.''It didn't really faze Dawson, probably for a couple of reasons.First, it was March 11, not Aug. 11. If there's a drop or two - or 10 - in the first 15 minutes of what amounts to the very early stages of the 2012 season, well, there might be a little bit of time to fix what's wrong.The second reason? Well, the guys dropping balls weren't wearing No. 1 or No. 3 or any other familiar digits. It wasn't Tavon Austin dropping passes or Stedman Bailey or anyone who figures to play a role in the offense next season.No, those guys were all pretty much lined up and ready to pick up where they left off in West Virginia's 70-33 Orange Bowl win over Clemson.Or at least that's what Dawson and head coach Dana Holgorsen hope. This is a chance for an offense that came together at just the right time last season to finally get a head start and a jump on the second time around."Offensively, we've got nine starters back and it's going to make a whole lot more sense to us offensively now,'' Holgorsen said. "Having that many starters back, it's more about developing some depth and getting the starters a year better."Everything we do makes sense. We've got goals that we want to improve on, obviously, but it's more about just getting these guys better at what they're doing.''Sunday that process began with a two-hour-plus workout in perfect, sunny conditions at Mountaineer Field. It was the first of 15 spring practices permitted by the NCAA. West Virginia will spread its out over six weeks, concluding with the Gold-Blue scrimmage on April 21.The biggest change in West Virginia's offense this spring and next season might actually be on the sidelines, where Dawson has officially been named the offensive coordinator. And that, quite frankly, is not a change at all.Holgorsen will still have his ever-present hand in the offense and he will still call the plays. And Holgorsen and Dawson are always pretty much on the same page when it comes to the direction the offense needs to take.For instance, Dawson was asked if he thought he and Holgorsen would add elements to the offense now that the players have been in the system for a year and have seemingly mastered the basics.Well, no."We're never going to add stuff. Everything is pretty much already in there and has been in there,'' Dawson said. "If anything, we're more likely to take stuff out.''On the defensive side, the situation is just the opposite, of course. With a virtually new defensive staff and without most of the graduated playmakers from a year ago, the task in the spring is much as it was on offense a year ago - both installing a new system and finding the right players to execute it.And after the first practice was in the books, Holgorsen was far from ready to pass judgment on the job done on either side of the ball."The bottom line is that it was the first day and without pads, but from an offensive perspective it was where we were a year ago defensively,'' Holgorsen said, referring to an established defensive scheme and players who knew how to run it. "From a defensive perspective it's where we were offensively a year ago. The roles have been flipped. But we've got a long ways to go on both sides.''BRIEFLY: Holgorsen was rather stunned by opening camp in temperatures hovering in the mid-60s and sunny skies."It was awesome. We didn't have one day like this last year. There was a big ol' cloud above our head for a long time,'' Holgorsen said. "I didn't think this weather existed here in March or April.''
The opening day was the first of six Sunday practices for the Mountaineers, who in the past have rarely, if ever, worked out on Sundays during the spring. Holgorsen explained the logic behind the move.
"We kicked around the Sunday thing for a long time. Just getting them back into the rhythm of a work week I think is going to be good for us,'' Holgorsen said. "Last year we did mornings, which I didn't like. Getting them back on Sundays, they don't need to worry about school, but can be back ready for school on Mondays. Study hall is open [Sunday after practice], so they'll get back to thinking about school on Monday morning."For every college kid across the country, it's always been a struggle to get them thinking about school until they wake up on Mondays. That's going to work out well for us.'' The team will follow a Sunday-Tuesday-Thursday practice routine for two weeks, then take a week off for spring break before resuming the schedule.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1