By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
All summer it has dominated everything West Virginia, and in reality it is just starting to get revved up.
This football season is dominated by the shadow of the move to the Big 12, a wonderful move for the Mountaineers football program, which was in fear of being buried in a dying Big East.
But is there a danger in it, an immediate danger?
With so much media and fan attention on the Big 12, with the talk of Texas and Oklahoma, is there a danger facing Coach Dana Holgorsen that his team will not be ready and on edge for the early season schedule that begins with Marshall on Sept. 1?
He says he is not worried about that.
And why not?
“Because of how we’ve approached it. We haven’t talk about any of the games yet and once the first game gets closer, we’ll talk a lot about it, and that’s the only one we’ll talk about. We have a lot of coaches who have approached this the same way for a long time, and we’ll keep worrying about ourselves because we have a long ways to go,” Holgorsen said Monday during his weekly press meeting.
His first offense, for example, has been everything he would want it to be and more, but behind the first unit, which is experienced, there is much work to do.
For a while, it appeared that a pair of freshman offensive linemen, Tyler Orlosky and Adam Pankey, might be far enough along to skip a redshirt year and actually serve as backups.
That changed as the pace of practice picked up.
“They’re starting to spin a little bit; it’s catching up to them,” Holgorsen said. “Hopefully we don’t have to play those guys. You want to be able to redshirt o-linemen, but those guys are physically up to speed. Mentally, it’s going to take some time. We’ll keep repping them, and we won’t talk about a redshirt situation here for the next few weeks.”
The same goes for a number of other positions where freshmen are pushing to play on the second team, including cornerback.
“Avery (Williams) has been out a week, but we have two experienced guys in Pat (Miller) and Brodrick (Jenkins). In nickel packages and that stuff, you’re going to need younger guys. (Terrell) Chestnut is a freshman still, (Ricky) Rumph is playing well and Nana (Kyeremeh) has played well,” Holgorsen said.
“The concern is the youth. I’ve said this from Day 1: We have a strange combination of a bunch of guys who have played a lot both offensively and defensively, and then a bunch of freshmen that need to play as well. We’re not going to consider the young guys young; they need to be ready to get out there and play just like the older kids can.”
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WVU got through the summer without any academic casualties.
“I think we’re in the clear. It’s a miracle. It’s the first miracle of the year,” Holgorsen said. “A couple of guys I had some very serious reservations about, and they got through. The academic people in the back are doing a good job.”
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One such player apparently was wide receiver J.D. Woods, who ended last season as the No. 1 Z receiver on the outside but who was on the scout team in camp until his availability was certain.
The plans were to move him to the inside this year but when freshman receiver Jordan Thompson showed so much ability, it freed Holgorsen up to move him back outside, where he has been excelling.
“He looked good. He finished the year last year as the starting Z, the outside guy, and we moved him inside because we need some inside guys. With the emergence of Jordan Thompson playing at a very high level, he took that spot and ran with it. We felt better at the inside receiver spot with him and Tavon (Austin) than we did at the outside receiver spot, so we moved J.D. back out because he was more productive,” Holgorsen said.
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Holgorsen has been playing a lot of younger safeties with the first team, but that has been a matter of necessity to date.
“We have injuries right now,” he said. “(Darwin) Cook has been hampered by a groin, and he’s day-to-day. (Matt) Moro’s been hampered by a hamstring, and he’s day-to-day. Those are two older guys we need to get out there.
“(Freshman) Karl Joseph finished the spring as the No. 1 safety; he’s a good football player. Having him in the spring has helped and with Cook being out, we put K.J. (Joseph) in. We put them in an up-tempo two-minute session today and their heads started spinning.
“If we can’t handle tempo, it’s going to be a long season for us. Everybody needs tempo and the young guys, without the experience, that’s where it shows more than anywhere.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.