By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
It all begins again for West Virginia University football today.
Forget about last year, about the defensive disaster that turned what some thought would be a championship season as the Mountaineers moved from the Big East to the Big 12. Forget that the Mountaineers staggered through its worst defensive season ever, so bad that even the record-shattering heroics of quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey could produce no more than a 7-6 record.
But that was yesterday and as the Beatles once noted:
“Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.”
Indeed, Smith, Austin and Bailey are history, and coach Dana Holgorsen tries to put together the pieces to a new team. It is a team that enters a new season without any great expectations, picked eighth in the Big 12’s preseason poll.
It is, however, a team that could either be a huge surprise or a huge disappointment.
That is what preseason camp is all about.
Perhaps the most important part of the three-week preseason camp will for someone to take charge at quarterback.
Clint Trickett goes in as the favorite, a transfer from Florida State, a kid with West Virginia roots being the son of former WVU assistant Rick Trickett. Trickett has most recently been the offensive line coach at Florida State, where the younger Trickett was a quarterback.
“He’s got confidence in his abilities,” Holgorsen said last week in Dallas during Big 12 Media Day. “But it wouldn’t be fair to anybody if I just gave him the job. He’s got to go earn it.”
The competition will be open between Trickett, who had some big moments filling in at FSU, last year’s backup Paul Millard and the talented but untested redshirt Ford Childress.
“I want to see a guy separate himself, whether it’s taking control of the huddle, making the correct throws, making the correct decisions, making the correct run checks, getting the other guys on the team to develop confidence in him,” Holgorsen said.
“That may take a day, or it may take two-and-a-half weeks. The sooner the better.”
In the past, WVU was mostly a throwing team, complete with Smith’s passing ability and Austin’s and Bailey’s exceptional receiving skills. This year, with the quarterback situation uncertain and the receivers also unproven but certainly talented, it could be that WVU will run to set up the pass rather than vice versa.
The biggest depth is in the running game, with senior transfer Charles Sims from Houston bringing in great versatility, being able to run and receive as he uses his final of eligibility. He is familiar with Holgorsen’s offense, having played for him when Holgorsen was offensive coordinator during his freshman year at Houston.
Much of the offense will be built around Sims, with these three weeks of camp used to getting him to work in with the quarterbacks, both as a runner but more important as a receiver. He brings with him 158 career receptions at Houston.
But there is so much with both Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison having produced 200-plus-yard games over the past two seasons and transfer Dreamius Smith being a power back to join the versatile Cody Clay. WVU is sure to have a different look than a year ago.
“I do feel good about where we’re at running back-wise. When you look at Dreamius Smith, one of the more sought-after running backs in the JUCO ranks last year, who was with us in spring practice. Dustin Garrison was a full-time starter as a true freshman, and Andrew Buie was a guy that had 200 yards against Texas last year,” Holgorsen said.
“So we’ve got capable guys, as deep there as we’ve ever been; that’s for certain.”
Reshaping the offense certainly is crucial, but even more important is for this camp to shape a defense that can make last year’s defense nothing more than a bad dream.
This won’t be easy, and a lot may have to do with newcomers D’Vante Henry and Garrett Hope as linebackers. If they can step right in and join the likes of safeties Darwin Cook and Karl Joseph and senior defensive end Will Clarke the Mountaineers might show marked improvement over a season ago.
Add this to discovering just who will both punt and placekick and the three weeks of camp might not ever be long enough, yet it is going to have to be because they get what figures to be little more than a dress rehearsal in the season opener against William & Mary before traveling to Oklahoma to take on the Sooners in a game that will just tell you what kind of team this will be.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.