MORGANTOWN - In the long term, perhaps Geno Smith's absence from West Virginia's Thursday practice - and probably the next two, as well - will be a good thing for the Mountaineer offense. After all, backup quarterbacks need practice reps, too.In the short term, though, Smith's absence - and particularly coach Dana Holgorsen's cryptic first statement - incited two hours of rampant speculation and at least a tiny bit of fear among an eager fan base."Damn social media,'' Holgorsen quipped, referring to the way the story got out in the first place.Smith, West Virginia's highly publicized senior quarterback and now Sports Illustrated cover subject, missed Thursday's practice because of the death of his grandmother in Florida. Holgorsen didn't say how long Smith would be absent, but said he expected him back by the beginning of classes, which convene Monday.That means he will also miss today and Saturday. The team has an off day Sunday.All in all it was a pretty simple story, but Holgorsen seemed to elevate it to something else by his initial reaction.Smith was noticeable by his absence right from the start of one of the rare 30-minute segments of practice that are open to the media throughout fall camp. While the rest of the team stretched at the beginning of Thursday's workout, the quarterbacks were alone at the end of the practice field throwing into a net.There were only four of them instead of five.When asked about Smith's absence by the media, WVU associate athletic director for communications Mike Fragale approached Holgorsen in the middle of the field and soon returned."He said you're welcome to ask him about it at 7:30,'' Fragale said, referring to a regularly scheduled media briefing with Holgorsen after practice.
That was all the information anyone was willing to provide.So for two hours the question of Smith's whereabouts was out there with no answer. Was he injured?As Holgorsen pointed out, though, on most days it might not have been even an issue. That reporters were present made it so, fueled by Twitter and Facebook and the like."Usually everybody here would find out what happened in practice once practice is over,'' Holgorsen said. "But then there's social media. We could always take your phones from you when you come in there and not allow you to do that, but I don't think anybody would be fired up about that.''Then again, Holgorsen might also have nipped the story in the bud by simply answering the question about Smith's absence in the first place. He was jokingly asked if perhaps in a way he enjoys stirring the pot.
"Yeah,'' he said. "A little bit.''As for Smith's absence, again, that might not be the worst thing for WVU's offense. There are still two weeks of practice remaining before the opening game against Marshall and Smith knows the offense better than anyone. His absence at this juncture shouldn't be much of a factor."It gives us an opportunity to rep Paul [Millard] and Ford [Childress] a lot,'' Holgorsen said, referring to Smith's two backups. "They got a whole bunch of reps and will continue to do that for the next two days.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.