Fewer holes to fill, fewer headaches for Mountaineers
MORGANTOWN — In a lot of ways, the preseason camp that West Virginia’s football team begins today will be like any other under Dana Holgorsen.
There will be installation and repetition, conditioning and fundamentals, meetings and film study. It will last for just over two weeks until classes begin and the routine is scaled back.
There is, however, one difference. And as far as Dana Holgorsen is concerned, it’s a huge one.
“We want to accomplish the same goals,’’ Holgorsen said. “But we’re in a much better place because we know who our starters are.
“We didn’t know that last year. We’re in a much better place this year.’’
Indeed, when the preseason began a year ago, there were so many holes to fill that it almost seemed that the open positions outnumbered those that were seemingly filled.
Consider that on offense, the quarterback who would start more than half the games, the running backs who would account for almost every yard and the receivers who would catch more than 75 percent of the passes all were first-year players. In camp, they were all battling for playing time.
The defense wasn’t quite as unsettled, but there were still position battles. The kickers and punter were both new, too, and return specialists had to be found.
This year? Well, nearly every one of those newcomers who won those position battles or emerged throughout the season is back, save for 1,000-yard rusher Charles Sims. And most of the holes that resulted from graduation were filled in the spring.
That’s not to say the pecking order is etched in stone, but instead of spending camp finding out who can play, Holgorsen and his staff can teach those who have already proven that they can.
“There are going to be a couple of battles here and there, on all three sides of the ball,’’ Holgorsen said. “But it’s much easier when you know who your starters are and can focus on what you’re trying to get accomplished with them and trying to get them better. And then you can try to develop depth them.’’
Take the preseason depth chart, for example. When Holgorsen named Clint Trickett the starting quarterback in June, it answered pretty much the only real question. There could be some back-and-forth on the offensive line at the two tackle spots, but otherwise the positions are all either set or those who will play have established themselves as a part of the rotation at running back and receiver.
On defense, a couple of graduate transfers will have to prove themselves, but Gardner-Webb defensive end Shaquille Riddick and Pitt safety Cullen Christian already seem to have carved at least a bit of a niche for themselves. Riddick is already listed as the starting defensive end and Cullen is listed as the backup to K.J. Dillon at the spur, a safety-linebacker hybrid.
All in all, the most high-profile battles won’t be for starting positions but instead for more playing time. It doesn’t matter who starts at running back, for instance, because between Dreamius Smith, Rushel Shell, Dustin Garrison, Andrew Buie and the back-in-good-graces Wendell Smallwood, all are likely to play, either as part of a rotation or in specific situations. The same is true at receiver, where redshirt freshmen Shelton Gibson and Jacky Marcellus and true freshman Ricky Rogers join an already experienced group that includes Mario Alford, Kevin White, Daikiel Shorts, Jordan Thompson and others.
“It’s a totally different mindset,’’ Holgorsen said of the preseason camp, which will break Aug. 16, two days before classes begin and two weeks before the opener against Alabama in Atlanta. “It’s still the same thing. We’re still going to practice the same way and still have the same routine. But how we coach in between plays and how we rep is going to be different. And that’s a good thing.’’
BRIEFLY: West Virginia has another graduate transfer, this one added as a walk-on just before the start of camp.
He’s Darien Bryant, a former tight end who played two years at Vanderbilt, the last two rather sparingly as a defensive end. After graduating from Vanderbilt, he apparently wanted to find a school that would allow him to again play tight end or as a combo tight end-fullback. He is on the 105-man preseason camp roster.
Bryant is from Pickerington, Ohio, and was recruited by WVU as a tight end with the 2011 signing class. Since the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder redshirted at Vanderbilt in 2011 and played in 2012 and 2013, he has two years of eligibility remaining.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @dphickman1 on Twitter.