The Times West Virginian

Sports

April 25, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU depth chart sends messages

MORGANTOWN — Perhaps the most impressive thing about the depth chart West Virginia University put out at the end of spring practice was that the coaches were able to put out a depth chart, which certainly is an improvement over a year ago when the Mountaineers were really short on quality players.

When you are coming off a 4-8 season, you accept any progress you find.

If there was a glaring warning sign to be found in the depth chart, it was that Clint Trickett was listed as the starting quarterback, just as he was at the start of spring practice … and he didn’t take a snap as he recovered from shoulder surgery.

If you have Geno Smith in that situation you say, OK, no one figured to beat him out, but surely Trickett is not to be considered among the same quarterback genre as the all-time leading passer at WVU.

A transfer to WVU a year ago after being unable to win the starting job at Florida State, which won the national title, he struggled with performance and injury at WVU. He didn’t catch on to the system quickly enough in the fall after missing spring practice to beat out Paul Millard or freshman Ford Childress, and other than against Oklahoma State he really laid no claim to this year’s job.

Yet none of three quarterbacks – Millard, Fairmont State transfer Logan Moore or junior college transfer Skyler Howard – could so much as establish which one was the true backup, let alone wrestle the job from Trickett.

In fact, it was terribly interesting to see the way the quarterbacks were listed behind Trickett … “Logan Moore or Paul Millard or Skyler Howard.”

“Or” would indicate they were even, but the fact they were not listed in alphabetical order or order of experience … it was either random or meant to set up a pecking order going into summer drills.

The depth chart was not filled with surprises, this spring being pretty much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of spring as they are hoping to fill in a lot of gaps with incoming players who will not arrive until August.

That does not mean there weren’t messages delivered within the depth chart.

Right off, areas of concern would be at offensive tackle, at inside receiver and in the depth at linebacker, while it is obvious that the running back position is overflowing with talent and equally obvious that if WVU is going to win games both Mario Alford and Kevin White are going to have to make a lot of big-time plays … if they come up with someone who can get them the ball with regularity.

That should be helped by the running back situation, for it appears on paper to be the best and deepest in the Big 12.

That Dreamius Smith, who did not play in the spring game because of an injury, leads the way is interesting, but this is a situation that will play out all through August as Dustin Garrison and Wendell Smallwood offer the versatility of smaller backs while Rushel Shell comes from Pitt with quite a pedigree and will also apply a lot of pressure.

To make it work, though, the offensive tackles must not only improve but stay healthy for there is a dangerous lack of depth at that position, and you don’t do much in the running game if you don’t have people making holes through which the backs can run.

Defensively, there has been a shuffling of the line, perhaps coming from the imagination supplied by the veteran newcomer Tom Bradley, who learned a thing or 30 during 33 years under Joe Paterno at Penn State.

At one time it looked as if Christian Brown, at 304 pounds, would be anchoring the middle at nose guard with Kyle Rose at a defensive end, but instead they did the Bradley shuffle and took the big man Brown and switched him with Rose.

Brown is capable of rushing the passer from the outside and Rose is whatever you want him to be, mostly just a tough guy who they hope will punish opposing centers. Dontrill Hyman is at the other end and there are some quality backups, so this could be the anchor that the defense lacked a year ago.

The starting linebackers are experienced and figure to be a force, built around Nick Kwiatkowski in the middle. When you look at the group of four – Kwiatkowski, spur KJ Dillon, Sam Isaiah Bruce and Will Brandon Golson – you have a group that possesses 47 starts.

This group, in a new defense that will be attacking quarterbacks instead of whatever it was they did last year when they threw at will against WVU, is quality … but it also better be durable for three of the four backups have not played a college game and the other – Sean Walters – played in all 12 games last year.

None has started a game, so injuries could be crippling.

Finally, there is a new and improved secondary, led by the king of smashmouth football in Karl Joseph at safety, and with sophomore Daryl Worley anchoring the pass defense at right corner, his second year en route to what figures to be a long and successful NFL career.

Ishmael Banks, a redshirt senior who has played in 36 games and started 16 in his career, mans the other corner and, rest assured, will draw a lot of attention from Big 12 quarterbacks who will do all they can to avoid testing Worley.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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