The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

April 3, 2011

Offense to play waiting game

Holgorsen: No. 1 WR will develop in time

MORGANTOWN — Three practices into West Virgina University spring drills, offensive coordinator/coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen knows somewhere out there on the field is a star receiver waiting to step forward, but at this early date he’s not sure which one and he’s in no hurry to push it.

The idea, you see, is to get a base offense installed, clear the clouds from the quarterbacks’ heads, clouds that has sometimes “staring a hole” through Holgorsen as they try to decipher what he wants, then allowing the team to progress.

A year ago at this time Holgorsen was going through the same fire drill in Stillwater, Okla., installing his offense there and wondering just who would step up and take it over, just as he is doing here.

“One thing I think is this offense allows you to do is develop kids. You take guys like Joel Filani. You guys probably don’t know him but he was a two-time all-Big 12 receiver his junior and senior year and went to the league and played a little bit. The thing is, he was absolutely terrible for two straight years before that. Guys develop.”

It happened at Texas Tech with Filani, and when he went to Oklahoma State he waited for someone there to step forward. It turned out there that it was an obscure sophomore who had caught just 19 passes as a freshman, Justin Blackmon.

“You take Justin Blackmon, who was probably the third best receiver two weeks into camp. Based on development and maturity, he ended up being pretty good,” Holgorsen said.

“Pretty good” to Holgorsen is catching 111 passes, winning the Biletnikoff Award presented the nation’s top receiver and being named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year.

So, who does Holgorsen see in three workouts who might be this year’s Blackmon?

“I knew you were going to ask that,” Holgorsen said, indicating he was not going to be anointing anyone as the next Justin Blackmon three workouts into the spring.

“I don’t have a name. I wish I did. You just can’t tell. This was the first day with pads. I got an idea of what I saw. We’ll go in and watch a version of the tape. Over the course of the spring we’ll be able to figure out who can develop and who can’t,” he said.

Since a name could not be pried out of him, perhaps he could offer a profile of what he felt made Blackmon be the one who took the huge step forward.

“Maturity is the biggest thing. He was 180 pounds out of high school. You don’t know how a kid is going to develop between 18 and 22. He’s a real smart guy, so he absorbed a lot. He was a dedicated guy. He got in the weight room, just all the stuff doesn’t happen naturally,” Holgorsen said.

Much, you see, is put on natural ability and certainly there is a need for a certain amount of it, but Holgorsen understand that natural ability does not make a star player alone and that it actually can be a hindrance.

“You take a very gifted guy, who doesn’t have to work had and still be productive and you take guys that have to work at it and couple that with being smart and the maturity process and you never know where that can head,” he said.

It’s no different, he noted, in a quarterback than it is in a receiver.

Someone pointed out that quarterback Geno Smith, coming up on his junior year, seemed to have a stronger arm than either of the freshmen in camp.

That certainly would seem to be a key quality for a quarterback to have, considering how the TV vocal chords are always gushing over a strong-armed quarterback ad nauseum.

“I don’t care about arm strength. That’s about ninth on my list,” Holgorsen said.

That shocking bit of news had to be followed up with wondering what the assets Holgorsen rates higher than that could be.

“Things like intelligence, football knowledge, work ethic in the film room, work ethic in the classroom, footwork, quick release, having the ability to work the pocket is good,” he said. “All that is more important than pure arm strength.”

All of that having been said, is there a Blackmon in this group of receivers?

The obvious choice is Tavon Austin, who is working as inside receiver and is not only dynamic catching the ball but once he has it in his hands. He certainly is a key performer for Holgorsen.

And no, Holgorsen said, there are no plans for him to play running back, where he also excels.

“We’re not going to have anyone play two positions. I don’t want anyone even playing inside and outside receiver. That defeats the purpose of being able to get your skills really good at what you’re doing,” he said.

“He’s settled in at inside receiver. I think that’s where he belongs. We will get him good there. That and kick returns. That’s plenty for him.”

Looking at the early play in the new system, it is beginning to appear that wide receiver Ivan McCartney, a high school teammate of Geno Smith’s, may be the one who develops in the system. He has been stunning in his performance to date.

“He’s done well. He’s got a long way to go, but he’s better than last year from what I hear,” Holgorsen said.

Email Bob Hertzel at

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