WVU Spring Practice: QB White shoulders load of Mountaineers' offense

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Here's a novel idea: Patrick White, West Virginia's fleet quarterback, wonders if he needs to ice down his throwing arm.

"It'll start to get sore," White, a former standout baseball player said, windmill-rotating his left shoulder after Friday's opening day of spring drills and breaking into a this-throbbing-feels-great grin. "That's a good start."

Not that his shoulder will ache from bearing the full weight of the Mountaineers' offense, now without the 3,923 yards rushing plus 50 touchdowns of Steve Slaton and 2,984 receiving yards plus 22 touchdowns of Darius Reynaud and the incalculable impact of Owen Schmitt.

Granted, their departures to pro football would seem to place more of a burden on the two-time Big East Conference offensive player of the year.

Yet, what causes pleasant pain to White in this weekend's spring start is the relatively constant throwing performed in practice under the first-year coach Bill Stewart. It's a 60-40, pass-to-run ratio so far, and that may only tilt more toward the pass by the April 19 Gold-Blue game.

You can tell how much White hates this idea by his ever-present grin.

"I think it'll be very effective," White said of the passing game that offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen brought from his previous Atlantic Coast Conference stop. "It was very successful at Wake Forest. We'll see."

The terminology is different. The pass protections, patterns and plays are unlike the bubble screens and short stuff of the spread offense utilized heretofore by Rich Rodriguez, before he left for Michigan. The running game is mostly the same.

Still, it's a change. Change isn't always good, either. Especially for an asset such as a record-breaking runner at quarterback entering his fourth season as a starter. White, though, feels as if the alterations fit him.

"It's a different offense for everybody. It has its similarities. But the passing game is a lot different," he said. "Different schemes. Different routes.

"Does it put more pressure on me? I have to be a lot sharper, definitely, in the passing game. More involved with receivers."

Therein, lies the rub. White is expected to pass more often, and his targets are players with less experience. In Reynaud (64 catches), Slaton (26) and Schmitt (12), West Virginia has lost 58 percent of its receptions from last season, including team leaders Nos. 1, 2 and 4. After Dorrell Jalloh's 24 catches, it took seven others to combine for 50 more -- with just one touchdown.

Several among that group must progress and surge to the forefront for the new and improved Mountaineers passing game to take hold: slot receivers Jock Sanders and Brandon Hogan, freshmen with a dozen catches apiece last fall; starting Z receiver Tito Gonzales, who averaged 21.9 yards on his 10 receptions (including that 79-yard, Fiesta Bowl touchdown); Woodland Hills' Wes Lyons; and more.

"Pat White, I thought his reads were good," said Stewart, the new coach, after Friday's opening day at rainy Mountaineer Field. "We've got to get the ball in No. 5's hands."

Sure, each snap winds up there. But the change will be where White goes next with that ball. Will he run, seemingly the offense's first option so often last fall? Will he hand off or pitch, especially with 5-foot-8, 170-pound freshman tailback Noel Devine the only other experienced ball carrier returning? Will he throw it more to a less-veteran group of receivers than the Reynauds and Brandon Myles to whom he had grown accustomed?

"If the ball snaps and everything turns to look at me, we definitely will be successful," White said. "Everybody has to do their part."

The offense isn't all on his shoulders. But apparently a larger part of it rests on the left one.

Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1724.


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