The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

April 29, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU’s Urban finds place in offense

MORGANTOWN — You might say that West Virginia University’s spring football practice, which concludes this evening with the annual Blue-Gold Game at Milan Puskar Stadium at Mountaineer Field, has turned into less a rebuilding of the Mountaineer offense than simply an Urban renewal project.

Oh, you won’t recognize the offense that will be on display, to be sure, the dilapidated screen left, screen right offense of Jeff Mullen having been sent off to the West Virginia Museum of Forgettable History and replaced with Dana Holgorsen’s high-octane, high-speed offense that he brought out of the Southwest with him.

That, complete with some newfound razzle and old-fashioned dazzle, with receivers spread all over Mountaineer Field save for Section 106, is what will be making its debut. True, it must carry an asterisk, that being that certainly not all of the offense has been installed and that this being what it is, simply the 15th and final practice session of the spring, not much that can help an opponent will be on display. It should be viewed much the same as a coming attraction in a movie theater.

But no matter what transpires, the most noticeable change figures to be the way former tight end Tyler Urban is used as a slot receiver. Under Mullen, slot receivers were mostly mini-receivers who could hide behind screens and wiggle and jiggle hoping to break a pass play of a yard or two into a big gain.

Urban is different. He’s big, 245 pounds, and if not fast, he is sure-handed enough that he catches anything thrown within his area code. Watching him in practice snatch balls out of the air, you expect to see him this summer catching flies of the insect variety in mid-flight with nothing but his thumb and index finger.

Certainly his size has not scared off Holgorsen.

“We’ve had a lot of guys with that body type,” the coach-in-waiting said.

And as for the skeptics who wonder if, perhaps, Urban is taking advantage in a hole in the basic defense WVU has run in the spring, a hole that would be covered in game-planning for an opponent, Holgorsen has an answer.

“I don’t think we’re exploiting a weakness in the defense. We just have a good player there who can body up and make a play,” he said. “What you see is what you get. He’s been covered, and he’s made plays. He’s been one of our most consistent guys, and we expect him to do it in the fall.

“That’s the advantage of having that body type. Let’s face it. He’s not fleet-footed and fast, but he has good body control and he can catch it when he’s covered.”

Urban, who was not used much when healthy and wasn’t healthy all that much, was unsure if he would have a role in the Holgorsen offense at first but found it as comfortable to slip into as a new pair of shoes that seem to have been made for his feet.

“I guess I could use that analogy. I didn’t know what was going to happen. As practices went by I felt my role changing more and more,” he said on Wednesday. “Even today they put in a tight end formation. It’s something to build on. It’s a good start going into the fall.”

While it figures that the featured receivers will be Tavon Austin, Ivan McCartney and Brad Starks, the idea is to get the ball to whoever catches best and who is open and, to date, that has mostly been Urban, whose worst day has been better than some receivers’ best days.

Oh, you’re going to see receivers in this Gold-Blue Game. The aforementioned three along with Urban are joined by J.D. Woods, Ryan Nehlen, Stedman Bailey, Coley White, Reggie Rembert and Vernard Roberts making catches.

But when push comes to shove, quarterback Geno Smith seems to have developed a personality in his passing game that relies heavily on Urban.

“When I came in my freshman year he was like my main target,” Smith recalled. “I was on the second team, and I had him and Will Johnson. Tyler is extremely talented. He was hurt last year. His freshman year he did great.”

Urban certainly is taking the switch from the largely non-existent position of tight end seriously enough to even attempt to make changes in his body.

“I actually started a weight loss. I dropped eight pounds from when I started,” he said. “I am going to try to keep my strength where it’s at and improve my speed.”

Taking the weight off has actually been easy, as fast paced as practices are and as many routes as the wide receivers have to run.

“You run like this and you take the weight off,” he said.

Now that he has had the introductory course to the new offense, Urban is eager to see what the summer brings when camp opens. He’s already seen the offense expand, even to the point where on Wednesday they added a tight end, meaning he actually had to get his hand down in the dirt again.

“I know there’s going to be different formations. They will probably add some formations come the fall. They’ll motion me from the slot and getting me in the backfield and going into the tight end.

“We haven’t done it yet, but that’s in the work for the fall,” he said.

And he’s ready for it, having been saved from the obsolescence of tight end by Holgorsen’s Urban renewal project.

Email Bob Hertzel at

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