West Virginia Notebook: Johnson rejoins team at practice
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia freshman quarterback Jeremy Johnson, who missed three practices earlier this week as he thought about leaving the program, returned to practice Wednesday afternoon.
Johnson, from Texas, is battling fellow freshman Barry Brunetti for the backup quarterback spot behind sophomore Geno Smith, who is the starter.
Earlier in the week, Mountaineers coach Bill Stewart said the quarterback had been saddled with a case of homesickness.
Stewart said he would rely on the West Virginia players to speak to Johnson about his future, hoping to convince the quarterback to remain with the team as opposed to transferring.
"Our football team and staff did a nice job," Stewart said. "He's back. We're happy he's back. He's a good guy.
"It tells us we have a great family here and we don't let outsiders break the family. We don't put one dime worth into sensationalism. He was just a freshman who was homesick. I tried to say that and didn't know how else to say it, other than just to say it."
Wednesday, when the Mountaineers broke into a scrimmage drill, Johnson worked out with the third team, with Brunetti working as the primary backup.
In April, as the Mountaineers went through spring practice, Tavon Austin, now a sophomore, was a player whose role was talked about quite a bit.
Austin, perhaps the fastest player on the squad and a standout running back in high school, would shift to wide receiver this season, because he was simply too talented to keep off the field.
Austin was looked at as the running back of the future, but because of his talents with the ball, waiting this year behind senior running back Noel Devine wasn't the best application of his speed and athleticism.
So, with that said, Stewart -- along with offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen -- came to the conclusion that Austin would play receiver this season, then bounce back to running back next season, when Devine is lost to graduation.
But, could there be a bit of a wrench thrown into all of this -- in a positive way?
Austin, through preseason camp, has shined at receiver, and he has also grown quite comfortable with his new position, out wide in the formation.
"My heart is at running back," said the 5-foot-9, 173-pound Austin. "But, I'm learning all this wide receiver and slot stuff. I've been watching a lot of the players from the NFL who are the same size as me as receivers. And they are doing it; they are having success, so it got me thinking a little bit.
"If I get good enough at receiver, I might want to stay out there. Because, out there, at receiver, I'm not taking as much of a beating. And, you know, it gets me in space faster. If I master this position, if I see that I can play it this year, I wouldn't be that mad if I don't go back to running back next year. I'm just saying, if I get good enough out there at receiver, and I have to get better, but if I get good enough, yeah, sure, I'd stay out there."
Austin, who played as an "athlete" last year, lining up in the backfield a bit, out wide with some regularity and also as a kick returner, understands he needs to tune up on some of the nuances of the receiver position if the coaching staff would consider him for a shift there full time.
"I didn't think it would be this hard, though, I thought I'd just be able to use my speed and get by people," Austin said. "That isn't the case. There are a lot of things I have to do. I have to learn some more on how to get open, how to play physical. But, I'm learning every day. And, if a [defensive back] doesn't get his hands on me, if I can get by him and he can't be physical and lock me up, there's a good chance I can run by him and score a touchdown."
First Published August 19, 2010 12:19 am