By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Shannon Dawson spent the past season coaching wide receivers at West Virginia University, which is sort of like having a job trying to find oil in Saudi Arabia.
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith had Stedman Bailey, J.D. Woods and Tavon Austin to throw to, which made Dawson into a very good football coach.
This year, all three are gone, along with Smith, and Dawson has had his responsibilities changed, moving from wide receiver coach to offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.
This is like starting a hamburger joint on a block with McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King. If you are going to succeed, you better be damn good at what you do.
Dawson takes over the offense a year too late, after it broke every record on the West Virginia record books, even though it did not lead to a very successful season.
His job is to rebuild the offense, and he believes the key to that is competition.
“If you went through and looked at our spring last year, you knew exactly what was going to happen. Tavon was going to run a couple of reverses, we’d run this or that,” he said.
The plays were in; the players were set.
There was little or no competition.
“This year I think it’s exciting for the players. It will be exciting to see who steps up and not just at quarterback ... at every position except for two, right?”
The quarterback position is wide open with the leading candidates being the returning backup Paul Millard and redshirt freshman Ford Childress, along freshman Chavas Rawlins.
With the top three receivers gone, there is nothing but competition at all the receiving spots. With Dustin Garrison now healthy, Andrew Buie back to pick up where he left off last year, junior college transfer Dreamius Smith coming in and looking like a potential runner and two high school additions, the running back spot is deep in competition, too.
Toss in the fact that the two guards and center have graduated and the offensive line is also knee deep in inexperienced players who are competing for spots.
“Sadly enough, we don’t have extreme depth, even though we have competition,” Dawson said. “You’re really only battling with one other guy. That’s just the way it is. but the dynamics of the competition are interesting. There’s competition going on within competition. We see it week to week in the weight room.
“We didn’t have a lot of competition last year. Those backup receivers never got to where they could produce in a game because they didn’t have to, and regardless of what you think, you’ve got a guy like Geno and you’ve got a guy like Paul backing him up, well, Paul’s never going to do anything with Geno there because it’s an umbrella of comfort. Mentally, you’re not the starter.”
Ideally you want players who believe they can start and start right now. That makes them work harder, practice harder, study harder, even follow instructions better as they want to impress the coach that they are what the coach is looking for.
“If you can have two guys sitting there thinking they’re the starter, then they both will get better,” Dawson said.
This is how it is going to work throughout the spring and the summer at quarterback in particular. If competition makes you better, it would be best if they are close and if coach Dana Holgorsen doesn’t tip his hand as to which player is the starter.
“QB competitions are always a little weird because that’s one position where only one of the guys plays,” Dawson, a former quarterback, noted. “I went through it when I was a player. You sit in the room, you hang out with these guys and you’re friends, but at the end of the day you know only one of you is going to play. It breeds a lot of healthy competition and it will make them better.
“If one of them was clear-cut better than the other, he would probably go into cruise mode, you know. If you could ever get the program where the backup guy is right on that guy’s butt, it probably will make both of them better. The good programs are like that.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.