By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
You almost would like to believe that before he left, West Virginia University quarterback Geno Smith called aside Paul Millard and Ford Childress — either together or separately — and gave them some words of wisdom to take forth with them as they battle to pick up where he left off.
But it wasn’t that way.
Smith had matters of his own to attend to, like working on his own quarterback skills before the draft, preparing for the Combine and then Pro Day at WVU, individual tryouts across the face of the NFL and a day with Jon Gruden to boost the former coach’s ratings maybe more than he could boost his own draft stock.
“He kind of just left us with the way he approached the game and the way he did everything,” Childress, the redshirt freshman, said in his first meeting with the media this spring. “Studying film, he showed me a lot, what to look for, what not to look for. The way he approached every game I thought was really good.”
“He didn’t really leave me with any parting words,” Millard said. “We got along the whole time. I saw him Pro Day. He worked out with us that week. Then I saw him on with Gruden. He did a good job.”
In a way, by not offering any kind of farewell speech, Smith was doing the two players a favor. He was telling them it was now their team and that their best path to success was to follow their own heart, just as he had done.
What’s more, he was turning them over to Dana Holgorsen, the head coach and offensive architect of the team, and offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Shannon Dawson, offering nothing that would contradict what they may preach.
There would be no saying, “Well, Geno said,” when the coaches were trying to get a point across.
The coaches’ words would be the sole gospel.
And right now, that is important because the offense is different by necessity without Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, players who do not come along with any great regularity.
“We don’t think about the guys we lost, and I’m excited it’s a new team,” Millard said. “These are guys I came in with. We lost a lot of talent, but that’s what college football is about. It’s about replacing guys. That’s what we’re trying to do right now. We’re excited about that.”
The competition between the two players is intense.
“It’s pretty even,” Childress said. “One of us has a better day than the other; then the next practice the other one has the better day. It goes back and forth.”
What’s more, there will be no decision any time soon.
“It’s a little odd. I’d obviously like it announced tomorrow that I’m the starter, but we’re going to have to compete all the way through and get better,” Childress said. “It’s better with us competing and pushing each other. It brings better play out of each other.”
It won’t change next Saturday with the spring game, either.
“We will mix them,” Holgorsen said. “What we have been doing in the previous 11 practices is Paul (Millard) will go with the first team then (Ford
Childress) will go with the first team. Not only do they switch, but the receivers rotate. The linemen will also go back and forth. We keep the quarterback with a specific center, and that changes every other practice.
“We will keep doing the same thing during camp. There will be a lot of moving parts during the spring game, and I hope we win. Spring games are tough. You want it to look good for the fans that come. It is going to be a festive day, and we want it to resemble football.”
The competition puts the players in a difficult situation, for each is trying to beat the other out of the thing he most wants in the world. They are teammates and competitors at the same time, a situation that often comes up in team sports and that is not always handled well.
To date, it has caused no problems between Millard and Childress.
“We keep it PG,” Childress said. “We just compete on the field. Off the field, nothing is going on. It keeps the atmosphere in the quarterback room good. We don’t ever fight.”
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Millard said. “Football is about competing. You get out there on a Saturday and compete. This is just competing on a different level, and I love it.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.