MORGANTOWN - Dana Holgorsen is at his current station as Division I head football coach with a multi-million dollar contract pretty much thanks to one unique attribute.
He knows how to coach offensive football as well as just about anyone in the game.
It's what enabled him to rapidly move up through the ranks as an assistant, tweaking the schemes he learned at the feet of Mike Leach and others and putting enough of his own spin on it all that it has become unique. That he has done so in a way that enables him to teach the scheme quickly and easily certainly doesn't hurt, either.
Nowhere on his resume is there anything regarding accomplishments on the defensive side of the ball. In fact, Holgorsen himself will admit that generally speaking he leaves that to the defensive assistants he has hired. Yes, he will supervise and make suggestions, and even at times get involved during practices now that he's a head coach. But for the most part he remains an offensive coach.
That doesn't mean, however, that Holgorsen's mere presence doesn't have an impact defensively. The fact of the matter is, one of the best assets a defensive coach can have around is an innovative offensive coach.
Take Daron Roberts, for example.
"Probably the greatest benefit for me was sitting in the offensive meeting room and listening to the way Dana isolates weaknesses in a defense,'' Roberts said.
Roberts is in his first season as West Virginia's cornerbacks coach. Last season, his first at WVU, he coached receivers on the offense.
Roberts is easily the most inexperienced of West Virginia's coaches, having only been in the game six years. He didn't play college football and wasn't even involved in the game while studying law at Texas and Harvard. He began his coaching career by essentially begging for an unpaid internship in the NFL in 2007.
But since getting his foot in the door, Roberts has studied and coached virtually every aspect of the game. He worked with special teams and defense with the Kansas City Chiefs, got his first real coaching job in the secondary with the Detroit Lions and then came to WVU to coach the receivers and return men. Now he's back in the secondary.
And what he learned by working with Holgorsen on offense last season has proven invaluable.
"Coaching DBs for four years [with the Chiefs and Lions], we always talked about reading the body language of receivers - their foot placement, their burst off the ball, even how fast a receiver runs out of the huddle,'' Roberts said. "We kind of tracked all those things to see if they can give you a lead.
"But Coach Holgorsen, in terms of watching corners and safeties and seeing what they tip, he has an eye for being able to find what the tip is and then giving that to [quarterback] Geno [Smith]. And then Geno has the latitude to take advantage of it.''
Roberts has his hands full just coaching the basics to his corners this season for several reasons. First, he has only two - starters Pat Miller and Brodrick Jenkins - who have ever really played the position in a college game. The rest of his charges are mainly freshmen and redshirt freshmen, along with a handful of older players whose game experience mainly has been on special teams.
Second, the Mountaineers have spent the spring and summer installing a new defensive scheme, which makes even the veterans rookies, to an extent.
Still, among those basics he's trying to teach are the nuances he learned while spending that year on offense with Holgorsen, watching him break down opposing defenses and the tendencies shown by the defensive backs.
"It taught me, from being in that room, 'OK, let me coach my guys to have as much discipline as possible and disguise what they're doing and make everything look the same and then move to the man,' '' Roberts said.
That's harder than it might sound, though, especially for younger players who are struggling just to learn coverages, much less disguising them.
"There are some coverages where, because of the responsibility, that you have to get there fast,'' Roberts said. "If I'm a half-field corner and I'm replacing the safety, I have to get there fast. But if I'm playing man technique, we also have a cover two where we press. So I can be up on a receiver and it may look like a cover two press, but I may actually have man responsibility.''
It's going to take some time to perfect, but the relative youth with which Roberts is working might actually be a good thing. Freshmen like Nana Kyeremeh and Ricky Rumph - the two newcomers who seem most likely to play right away - haven't developed habits that might tip off offensive coaches.
"It's hard, but I just think it goes back to a comfort level,'' Roberts said. "Once guys know what their responsibility is and where they have to be at the snap of the ball, and once they get the cadence and the timing down, then they can be more comfortable in holding as late as possible and then getting to their spot.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.