MORGANTOWN — To imagine that college football coaches don’t have enough contact with their players seems rather ludicrous in many ways. The sport has essentially become a year-round exercise that borders more on a full-time job than a diversion, perhaps no better example being the attempt of Northwestern’s players to unionize.
There has always been, however, a rather odd hole in that contact. During June and July, perhaps the most critical period of what passes as the sport’s offseason, coaches have never been permitted contact with their players. They could suggest that the players show up for conditioning — a suggestion that was a de facto demand if they hoped to have any chance of success once practice began in August — but weren’t allowed any contact beyond passing each other in the hallways.
Well, that hole has now been filled. Beginning this summer, football rules will more closely mirror those of men’s and women’s basketball. Coaches are not only allowed to make strength and conditioning mandatory for as much as eight hours a week, they can also use two of those eight hours for film study with the players.
All in all, it seems a pretty good balance between the extremes of having no contact at all and turning June and July into an extended preseason camp. Or at least Dana Holgorsen thinks so.
“We don’t want to be around them so much that when August rolls around they’re sick and tired of us,’’ the West Virginia coach said. “The last two weeks of May we’ll be out recruiting, so we won’t be around them much then. But when we get back here in June we’re going to be able to have team meetings, we’re going to be able to split it and watch offense and defense for a couple of hours a week.
“It’s going to be easier to monitor where they’re at and what they’re doing.’’
For Holgorsen and his offensive coaching staff, the change comes at an opportune time, particularly in regard to West Virginia’s quarterback situation. June and July won’t be when Holgorsen decides on who his quarterback will be in 2014, but it could be when he decides who it won’t be.
The fact is, the pool of candidates stands at five going into the summer and it can’t still be that many when fall camp begins Aug. 1. The team will have roughly three weeks to prepare for the season and then a fourth to get ready for the Aug. 30 opener with Alabama in Atlanta. There’s no way that five quarterbacks can be fairly auditioned in the week or so before decisions have to be made and one or two of them begin getting most of the practice reps.
“We’re going to have to come up with a plan,’’ Holgorsen said. “There’s five of them and we’re going to have to narrow it down. We’re going to have to figure out who the guy is and we’re going to have to give him all the reps.’’
That’s where the summer contact comes in handy. Three of the quarterbacks — senior Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and walk-on Logan Moore — just completed 15 spring practices, from which the coaches have more than 800 plays on film to evaluate. Clint Trickett, who sat out the spring recovering from shoulder surgery, has seven games of starting experience from last season and every one of those snaps is on tape, too.
During those two hours a week of film study, the coaches and the quarterbacks can watch those plays together. The coaches can teach and the players can learn. Based on those evaluations and the teaching that goes on, the hope is that it becomes a bit more clear who deserves the chance to compete beginning Aug. 1.
Freshman William Crest will be in the mix as well, although with no tape to evaluate, his job will be to impress simply with his knowledge and work habits.
“We’ll study the [video] cut-ups carefully and see where they’re at and we’ll monitor their progress in June and July,’’ Holgorsen said. “And then when August comes around we’re going to have to make a decision.’’
It is certainly not the same as putting the quarterbacks behind center and seeing which one handles the job best, but it’s still a better opportunity to evaluate than in years past.
“That’s all we can do with them,’’ Holgorsen said. “We can watch them lift weights and do sprints, but we can’t do any football with them between now and Aug. 1. We can teach them in the classroom, that’s all.’’
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.