By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Our clocks had moved forward an hour and the weather finally began screaming spring as West Virginia’s football team put a winter of weights and waiting behind them and began rebuilding from the ashes of last season.
Most of the focus, as it always is, especially on a team coached by the offensive-minded Dana Holgorsen, was on how WVU would rebuild its offense, but there is a basic truth that lingers over this team that says that may be a mistake.
With three NFL high draft choices, including the man probably the first quarterback chosen, WVU could not score enough points to win any more than seven games or to qualify for a bowl any better than something called the Pinstripe Bowl and played in that holiday vacation getaway known as the Bronx, N.Y.
In truth, it is unrealistic to expect this year’s offense to match the Geno Smith-Tavon Austin-Stedman Bailey offense of a year ago. Hence, it is on the defense to improve dramatically over last year’s, the worst defensive unit ever to play at the school.
“Defensively, coach (Keith) Patterson is continuing to get a scheme put in place,” Holgorsen said as he laid the groundwork for this spring. “He got a head start on it heading into the bowl game. Obviously, we didn’t get near what we wanted to get into it, but still got a lot out of this regardless of how the game ended up.”
For those who have selective memories, the final score of that game was Syracuse 38, West Virginia 14, the defense allowing 369 yards rushing and 511 total yards to go with 28 first downs, which led to more than 36 minutes of time of possession.
Yet Holgorsen believes it was beneficial to make the move he made before the game, removing the title of defensive coordinator from the overmatched Joe DeForest and giving it to Patterson, allowing him to begin work on what he wanted to establish this season.
“We still got a lot out of that from a defensive standpoint as far as getting ahead for the spring,” Holgorsen said. “But we got the coaches in place and got the scheme in place, and we are continuously meeting with these guys to put the scheme in place and put the philosophy in place. We are excited to see these guys improve.”
There are defensive changes among the coaches, Daron Roberts and Steve Dunlap discharged, Patterson running the show, Tony Gibson brought in to work with the safeties and Brian Mitchell to work with the cornerbacks.
No one knows if it will help but everyone knows it can’t hurt.
And the nice part of it is that there is competition everywhere, which should serve to bring out the best in the players.
“I know a lot of you all were asking for depth charts and stuff last year, and I reluctantly gave you one because it changed tremendously. It is the same thing with this. These depth charts really don’t exist,” Holgorsen said.
“We have open competition at every single position. Just looking at the guys right now from a defensive line standpoint, coach (Erik) Slaughter pretty much has every guy back. Will Clarke and Shaq Rowell are two seniors that we are going to lean on from a leadership standpoint to do a lot of things for us. They are having great offseasons and are working hard, and their attitudes are great.
“Then we have a bunch of young guys. A lot of those young guys had to play last year, which if you are playing five or six freshmen on the defensive line, that is not going to be advantageous to your football team. The good news is, those guys are all going to be back — guys like Korey Harris, Christian Brown, Kyle Rose and Eric Kiney. Those guys are going to be guys we want to see improve throughout spring,” Holgorsen said.
He noted, too, that they are leaning on inside linebacker Isaiah Bruce to pick up where he was a year ago when he was the second leading tackler, and that his safeties probably will help the defense.
“Both safeties — Karl Joseph and Darwin Cook — look great,” he said. “Those guys have played a lot of football around here and are having good offseasons. We are going to lean on them as far as bringing the rest of these secondary guys along.”
The cornerbacks were completely inadequate a season ago but Holgorsen is hoping that new assistant Brian Mitchell can perform a complete turnaround there.
“Coach (Brian) Mitchell is in here to continue to teach these guys from a developmental process. We played four or five freshman corners. Those guys have to grow up. Those guys have to play,” Holgorsen said. “Ishmael Banks is doing a good job. Brodrick Jenkins had been banged up, but we are getting him back. The young guys — Ricky Rumph, Vernon Davis and Nana Kyeremeh — those guys just have to keep improving. We have to get those guys to continue to just improve, which is obviously the point of spring practice.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.