First depth chart keeps starting QB a mystery
MORGANTOWN - At some point this week, Dana Holgorsen might reveal his starting quarterback for Saturday's season opener against William & Mary.
Then again, perhaps he won't.
West Virginia's head coach grudgingly, it seems, took a small step in that direction Sunday night when he allowed the school's sports information staff to release a depth chart. It didn't really answer the question about the Mountaineers' starting quarterback.
Holgorsen listed both junior Paul Millard and Florida State transfer Clint Trickett atop the depth chart at the position. The only thing clear seems to be that redshirt freshman Ford Childress is behind those two.
Millard spent the past two years as Geno Smith's backup at the position. Trickett transferred from Florida State just this summer and became immediately eligible to play because he graduated from FSU.
Both are juniors.
Apparently, the two will continue to battle it out this week in practice prior to Saturday's noon game at Mountaineer Field. And, in truth, perhaps Holgorsen can afford to wait as long as possible because no matter which one wins the battle, the selection doesn't change West Virginia's offense.
The quarterback never does.
"It's not like we're running one set of plays with one, one set of plays with another and a third set of plays with the other,'' offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "Whoever functions better in our offense is always going to be the guy.''
Indeed, for the most part Holgorsen's quarterbacks have always played essentially the same, from Graham Harrell at Texas Tech to Case Keenum at Houston to Brandon Weeden at Oklahoma State and to Smith at West Virginia. They don't all look the same and to a certain degree they have different skill sets, but all were blended into the same offensive system.
That's not necessarily the case at other places under other coaches. Former West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez is a good example. He arrived at West Virginia having coached prolific passers at Tulane and pass-run combo quarterbacks at Clemson. At WVU, he had running backs and running quarterbacks and he tweaked his offense to suit them. Now at Arizona, he's back to more of a combo style.
Some schools even adapt offenses to suit more than one quarterback at a time, like Oklahoma did the last two years with Landry Jones throwing the ball and Blake Bell running a power scheme - with Bell as the power - in short yardage and near the goal line.
"A lot of places are like that. They have a quarterback they're going to bring in to run the read option, then they have a quarterback they're going to bring in to throw the football,'' Dawson said. "We're not like that.
"We're going to program and develop a quarterback within our system. I don't care how different they are, you have to be able to function in this system. If you can do it, fine. If not, you're probably not going to be able to play.''
There were some other interesting revelations in the depth chart the school released Sunday night, not the least of which was the stable of running backs.
Charles Sims, the Houston transfer, was listed first, as expected. But then came true freshman Wendell Smith, junior college transfer Dreamius Smith and junior Dustin Garrison. Last year's leading rusher, Andrew Buie, didn't make the list.
At wide receiver, Ivan McCartney and K.J. Myers are the starters ahead of junior college transfers Kevin White and Ronald Carswell. The inside receiver is freshman Daikiel Shorts.
The only other new thing on the offense was at left guard, where Marquis Lucas has been the starter most of the month but now the depth chart lists Lucas or Pat Eger.
On defense, there were no real surprises among the starters, although two - Jared Barber and Doug Rigg - are listed at sam linebacker. As expected, Travis Bell and Ishmael Banks are listed as the starters at cornerback.
Two names that did not show up on the defensive depth chart were linebackers Wes Tonkery and Shaq Petteway. Freshman Marvin Gross was listed as a backup in that group.
And perhaps the battle for the job of kickoff specialist continues. Josh Lambert is listed on the depth chart as the kicker, but no distinction is made between placekicker and kickoffs.
Junior college transfer Nick O'Toole is listed as the punter, while Sims and Smallwood are listed as the kick returners and Carswell is ahead of Jordan Thompson as the punt returner.
All during West Virginia's preseason camp, one word kept coming up when coaches talked about their position battles.
"We're trying to make every room uncomfortable,'' Dawson said. "That's the key.''
By uncomfortable, Dawson and the other assistants mean competitive.
"I think ever since I got here, rooms have been comfortable because it's been clear cut: These are the guys and these are the guys that are behind,'' Dawson said. "There are no levels in the rooms now. We've got three, sometimes four, sometimes five people in every room at every position that are battling and capable.
"The whole level of competition has picked up. And you can tell. You take a day off and you're going to fall.''
It's not just at quarterback and on the offense - wide receivers and running backs - where there is intrigue about the depth chart.
In fact, there are perhaps even more close position battles on defense than offense. As many as eight to 12 linebackers could play, seven or eight defensive linemen and perhaps 10 players on the back end at safety and cornerback.
Don't expect those battles to ever produce clear-cut winners, however. Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson has too many different things to defend to settle on just 11 - or even 15 or 16 - mainstays.
"This is a game about matchups and it's become more so that way,'' Patterson said. "You have to defend from sideline to sideline and from goal line to goal line. You can't do that by just putting this group of people on the field and letting them go.''
In other words, expect the personnel on defense to change frequently.
"You can't allow the offense to create mismatches,'' Patterson said. "And that's when the personnel and substitution patterns come in place.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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