Geno's absence means more work for backups
MORGANTOWN - All things considered, Geno Smith's three-day absence from the end of West Virginia's pre-classes football camp isn't likely to have much of an effect on the Mountaineers' offense.
That includes the positive side of Smith's unavailability, which is that backups Paul Millard and Ford Childress will have far more of an opportunity to take meaningful practice reps.
Yes, that's a plus in that any added exposure to the offense that Millard and Childress get should better prepare them to step into the huge void that would be left should something happen to Smith during the season.
But remember, by his own account, not once in coach Dana Holgorsen's 12 years as a Division I assistant, coordinator or head coach has he lost a starting quarterback to injury. If he manages to maintain that streak in 2012 with a bigger, stronger and presumably more durable Smith, Millard and Childress won't be needed anyway.
Still, three days of concentrated practice time with the No. 1 offense certainly can't hurt the sophomore Millard and the true freshman Childress, who are the only other scholarship quarterbacks on the roster.
"It gives us an opportunity to rep Paul and Ford a lot, so they got a whole bunch of reps,'' Holgorsen said after finding out he would be without Smith at least until Monday while the senior stays at home in Miami with his family after the death of his grandmother. "And we'll continue to do that [throughout the weekend].''
Millard is unquestionably Smith's backup. He's been in the program for a year and a half after arriving as an early-enrollee freshman in January of 2011. He was Smith's backup last season, when he was the only other scholarship quarterback on the roster.
The 6-foot-1, 221-pound Millard played in four games, but all in mop-up duty at the end of games that wound up with a final average score of 56-18 (Norfolk State, Bowling Green, Connecticut and Clemson). His passing numbers were just 7 of 15 for 124 yards, with two interceptions and two touchdowns.
His two picks were actually fairly memorable, if for all the wrong reasons. UConn's Ty-Meer Brown returned his for a touchdown and then, in the 70-33 Orange Bowl rout of Clemson, he went 0-for-3 and was picked off on his first series with the score 63-20 in the third quarter. Holgorsen sent Smith back in for the next series.
"Paul has that gunslinger mentality, which can get him in trouble sometimes,'' quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said earlier this week. "But he's doing well. We're putting him in a lot of different situations. He's shown where he can step up and get the job done for us, but there are times where he's still experiencing difficulties on the learning curve. He needs to understand he can't be as greedy sometimes, and that it's OK to check down to a receiver.
"But overall, I'm very pleased with how he has progressed. I'm comfortable with him if something were to happen to Geno. He has thick skin and he's very good at playing in this system. I'm confident in his skill set in this offense.''
The hope is that Millard will be the only backup needed this season because Childress is in the same position Millard was in last season - a true freshman who needs to spend time in the system before being asked to play. There was no opportunity to redshirt Millard, but fellow Texan Childress should have that luxury.
"Right now, it's our intent to redshirt him. He's at the point where Paul was last season,'' Spavital said. "This is going to be a big year for him.
"I don't want a kid just thinking that he is going to redshirt, though. You don't want him to build a mentality that he isn't going to be in the game. You want them to come into this facility every day with the idea that they are going to be a starter.''
At least for a few days, Millard and Childress will have a chance to practice as if they were the starter, and that can't be a bad thing.
"They look like young, inexperienced backup quarterbacks out there, and the more they rep the better they're going to be at it,'' Holgorsen said. "Heaven forbid ever being in that situation to have to put them in with the first string because Geno clearly makes everybody else around him better. Watching both Ford and Paul repping with the first team, it doesn't necessarily make everybody else around them better where it's clear that [Smith] does. We're better with him.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.