Second spring with Holgorsen easier on WVU offense
Much has been made about how much more fluently the West Virginia offense will run in the program's second year under head coach Dana Holgorsen.
It wasn't like the Mountaineers exactly struggled when they had the ball last season, as evidenced by the bowl-record 70 points and 589 yards WVU hung on Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
Still, a lot of that success was attributed to a couple of extra weeks worth of practice the team got due to bowl preparations, and most agree the offense finally hit its stride toward the end of last year.
Now, at the beginning of spring practices, quarterback Geno Smith said he feels much more relaxed and at home in year two under Holgorsen.
"I feel much more seasoned," Smith said. "I'm not trying to figure things out like I was last spring. I have a better understanding of the offense and I can teach the younger guys a little bit more than I was able to in the past."
For Holgorsen, getting to enter year two with the same set of players is a semi-new concept in itself after making the jump from offensive coordinator at Houston to offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State to head coach at West Virginia in consecutive seasons.
Holgorsen said a little familiarity has been a welcome change so far this spring.
"It felt good. I probably did less coaching [at Sunday's opening spring practice] than I've done the last three springs," Holgorsen said. "It was like it was with [quarterback] Case Keenum coming back at Houston. After you've coached him for a year, you didn't have to tell him a whole bunch.
"Geno looked poised, so we didn't have to say a whole lot to him. It helps to have four linemen coming back that know what to do, five if you add Quinton Spain in there who took snaps for us."
Smith backed up his coaches' sentiments, saying he was pretty pleased with his early spring performance.
"Overall, I think I'm doing a great job at making my reads, progressions, timing and footwork," Smith said. "I'm making sure I understand what I have to do as a leader, and I'm making sure the offense runs at a good tempo."
As important as the returning linemen are to Smith's comfort level, ditto for the return of the vast majority of his weapons. Smith will enjoy his full compliment of receivers from last season as well as several returning running backs, mainly sophomores Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison as well as senior Shawne Alston.
"[Smith] had four receivers that he was throwing to, five with Ryan Nehlen, that all had reps in games," Holgorsen said. "That makes it a lot easier. Then you have four or five backs that took reps last year. It's a natural progression for year two. We're really happy with where we're at right now."
While the offense seems like it's picking up right where it left off, the defense is trying to make a big adjustment under newly hired defensive coordinator Joe DeForest.
DeForest will insert a more traditional 3-4 scheme as opposed to Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 stack. As expected, some of WVU's returning defensive players are scrambling to get accustomed to the new alignment early in the spring while others insist it's not that big of a change.
"It's easier than the last defense I had to learn, but it's about getting out the stuff we learned in last year's defense and transitioning to this defense," linebacker Doug Rigg said. "A lot of times, I'm doing stuff that would be right in other defenses, but it's wrong in this one."
"For myself, the scheme is pretty similar," defensive end Will Clarke said. "I was more of a field guy, but sometimes me, Julian [Miller] and Bruce [Irvin] would switch. In this scheme, I'm more of an end and on the strong side of the field.
Among players expected to participate are defensive linemen Irvin and Miller, linebacker Najee Good, defensive backs Keith Tandy and Eian Smith, offensive lineman Don Barclay, long snapper Cody Nutter, tight end Tyler Urban and wideouts Brad Starks and Devon Brown.
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