West Virginia still adapting to Holgorsen's offense
West Virginia's defense has more new faces, but it is the offense that will change the most this fall.
New coach Dana Holgorsen spent most of the spring installing his modified spread offense, which produced a lot of points in previous stops at Oklahoma State and Houston. Now, he gets to put all the pieces together at West Virginia.
Holgorsen will work with the Mountaineers' full offensive roster for the first time today when preseason camp opens in Morgantown.
West Virginia will have 18 offensive players practicing who did not participate in spring drills, when a lot of the schematic instruction took place.
"There is much more relief and anticipation than there are challenges," Holgorsen said about adding newcomers to the offensive mix. "The spring, you get discouraged because you don't have as many numbers as you want."
That meant running the first-team offense with a few second- or third-stringers. Some second- and third-team positions were filled with walk-ons who might not play this season.
By adding more scholarship players to practice, Holgorsen will have a better idea of what his offense can do. For some, it will take a while to learn the system. Holgorsen said receivers generally have an easier time learning his system than running backs or linemen.
At Oklahoma State last season, Holgorsen played 16 first-year players in the Cowboys' offense, and he said he expects the majority of the Mountaineers newcomers to see playing time this fall.
In some respects, the Mountaineers will benefit from the number of inexperienced players who took part in spring drills. Tackles Jeff Braun and Don Barclay did not practice this spring while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, which allowed Quinton Spain and Pat Eger, a Thomas Jefferson High School graduate, to get a lot of repetitions.
That will prove valuable this fall because starting guard Josh Jenkins is out for the season after sustaining an MCL injury in his left knee. Holgorsen said Braun likely would move to guard -- which he said he believes to be his natural position -- and Spain would take Braun's spot at tackle.
"With Spain coming on and those two guys back in the mix, it does alleviate the pressure," Holgorsen said.
As for which newcomer will make the biggest impact on the Mountaineers' offense, Holgorsen can't say. He remembers welcoming Wes Welker to Texas Tech, where he was working as inside receivers coach. Welker signed late with the Red Raiders and looked small and scrawny, and Holgorsen did not expect much production from him.
Instead, Welker finished his career as one of the best wide receivers in Texas Tech history and eventually became a star for the New England Patriots.
The Mountaineers have been picked to finish first in the Big East Conference, according to a preseason poll of Big East media. The Mountaineers received 21 of 24 first-place votes.
Larry Coker was the last first-year coach to win a Big East title when he led Miami to the 2001 conference crown.
Holgorsen has not had much time to move from offensive coordinator to head coach. Brought in as head coach-in-waiting in December, he replaced former coach Bill Stewart, who resigned under pressure in June. His biggest goal since has been to familiarize himself with his defensive players.
"It's nothing that can happen overnight," Holgorsen said. "It's hard to do in the summer because of the amount of hands-off time. Time is what gets that done."
The NCAA limits the amount of contact coaches can have with players over the summer. But he has met frequently with defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, but Holgorsen -- still the team's offensive coordinator -- will not spend much time poring over the Mountaineers' defensive plans. He does not want to micromanage Casteel, widely recognized as one of college football's top defensive minds.
"I don't need to know what the schemes are," Holgorsen said. "It's no secret that I'm more of an offense guy. Being the head coach, I'm going to remain an offensive guy. The biggest thing is how we practice together."
First Published August 5, 2011 12:00 am