Dave Hickman: Trickett is in a familiar place

Photo by DALE SPARKS/ALL-PRO PHOTOGRAPHY Mountaineers starting quarterback Clint Trickett gets set to throw during Thursday's opening practice.

MORGANTOWN — It’s not as if Clint Trickett hasn’t been in this position before.

You know the deal, right? A relatively experienced quarterback with a hotshot recruit behind him?

It wasn’t that long ago, either. It was the 2012 season and the 2013 spring that followed. Trickett was at Florida State at the time, having spent the better part of three springs and three falls learning the Seminoles’ system. He’d done it well enough to earn the backup job to E.J. Manuel in 2011 and 2012, even spelling the eventual first-round NFL draft pick in a handful of games.

But looking over his shoulder were Jacob Coker and Jameis Winston. Coker couldn’t beat out Trickett for the backup job as a redshirt freshman in 2012 and Winston had just arrived and needed his own redshirt year that season.

By the spring of 2013, Winston and Coker were more than ready to battle for the starting job. Trickett was involved, too, but by that time he’d pretty much made his decision to transfer. Winston won the job and the national championship and the Heisman Trophy. Coker was his backup and then after the season transferred to Alabama, where he could well be the starting quarterback when the Tide faces West Virginia on Aug. 30.

And Trickett? He’s entrenched as the starter for the Mountaineers. Lurking behind him now is four-star recruit William Crest, who coach Dana Holgorsen has already said will not redshirt.

“This is a little different,’’ Trickett said Tuesday. “This is my team and that wasn’t the case before.’’

Indeed, when Trickett was at Florida State the hotshot quarterbacks weren’t gunning for his job. He was essentially in the same boat as they were, playing behind Manuel. That he won those battles probably had as much to do with his knowledge of the system — and the lack of same for the others, particularly Winston — as it did with his raw talent as a quarterback.

And in truth, that might be the case now, too. It’s not that Trickett doesn’t have skills. He does. Sometimes he’s perceived as merely the safe choice at quarterback because he now not only has a year in the WVU system, but he has parts of three seasons of game experience on the FBS level. But the truth is Trickett can also throw the ball pretty much as well or better than any other quarterback in WVU’s camp — Crest included — and he has the smarts and a knack for playing the position.

He didn’t play on and off at Florida State and then most of last season at West Virginia just because he was the safe choice. The guy has skills, whether his critics want to admit that or not. That’s a given.

But Trickett also doesn’t have the same kind of raw potential as Crest. That’s a given, too. He’s not athletic enough that he’s ever going to be considered as a punt returner, as is Crest. He’s not going to dazzle anyone with open-field running moves, the kind that Crest flashed occasionally in high school. The 175-pound Trickett isn’t going to absorb shots — or probably avoid them — like the 215-pound Crest, either.

The question, then, is whether or not there’s room in West Virginia’s offense for both.

Trickett might be the wrong guy to ask, but we took a shot anyway. What could Crest contribute right away?

“Well, hopefully a lot of mop-up duty,’’ Trickett smiled. “Hopefully we win some games big and he can get some mop-up duty.

“Other than that, that’s not for me to say. That’s Coach’s decision. I don’t know when to pull me out and put him in or Paul [Millard] or Skyler [Howard] or any of them.’’

True, that is Holgorsen’s decision. He’s already on record — he said so after only a few days of camp last week — that if Crest proves that he can do some things better than Trickett and there’s a need for those things, well, maybe a package of plays can be devised for the freshman.

But in all the excitement over the potential of Crest, often lost in the shuffle is the potential of the offense with Trickett. It’s easy to say that West Virginia’s offense was lousy a year ago because the players were lousy, but that’s a pretty lazy evaluation. It’s just as likely — if not more so — that the offense was lousy because it was almost entirely comprised of first-year quarterbacks, receivers and running backs.

A year later, virtually all of those players are back, and if Trickett and the coaches are to be believed the difference is night and day.

“Right now, we really do have some continuity as an offense,’’ Trickett said. “We’re so tight that we’re checking things at the line that only me and the receivers know about. The coaches aren’t even aware.

“This is Level 400 stuff, very advanced stuff. Last year we were just trying to get snaps off.’’

That’s something a freshman quarterback isn’t going to duplicate.

That doesn’t mean there’s not a place for Crest. If Holgorsen can find a way to use him, he will. It could be in a variety of roles.

But as West Virginia heads into the season, Trickett shouldn’t have to worry about the latest hotshot recruit taking his job.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

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