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Big questions and answers in Morgantown

MORGANTOWN - For the most part, the Gold-Blue spring game is a carnival.

This year, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen was the barker, standing on the field behind his quarterbacks.

It was rainy and cold. There were 12-minute quarters, then 10-minute quarters. Yes, one could see freshman Karl Joseph. Another freshman, Jordan Thompson, had the most catches with eight. The leading receiver in yardage, though, was Terrence Gourdine with 118 yards. Yes, that Terrence Gourdine.

But let's get away from the big top that was Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday and address the big issues as WVU nears its first season in the Big 12.

Heading into spring, Holgorsen told me he wants a more consistently potent offense. On Saturday, it was anything but consistent. His take on the overall spring effort?

"Nobody's happy where you are after spring, just because you're playing so many different people," Holgorsen said on Saturday. "I know who the guys are that will be playing the majority of the snaps. The closer we get to a game, the more we'll hone in on it. That's when you kind of figure out if we're getting more consistent."

Quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital told me before drills that even though he's thrilled to have Geno Smith, he wanted him to work on getting the ball out quicker. It's been a focal point all spring.

On Saturday, Smith was 23-of-29 passing with one interception, two touchdowns and 281 yards passing. And he had a satisfied look concerning the quicker release.

"I've made tremendous improvement with that," Smith said. "I know where to go with the ball. I don't hesitate as much as I may have in the past. It's something, though, I have to keep working on - it's never going to be 100 percent great."

Josh Jenkins? He's been a big - 6-foot-4, 291-pound - concern after an MCL kneecap injury in last season's spring game.

 "You don't know how excited I was when the game was over," Jenkins said after Saturday's game. "I went to my offensive line coach and said, 'Man, I can't believe I made it through spring and get to play next year.'"

The question, though, centers on how effectively he can play. On Saturday, he played well.

"I feel pretty good," Jenkins said. "I feel pretty healthy. I'm going to keep getting my leg stronger. I can get stronger. I'll keep focusing on that this summer.

"I don't think I lost much. I think I'm better. I had time to lift and get stronger and watch film and get used to the offense."

Another position of interest was tailback. No, that position isn't as important in Holgorsen's "Air Raid" attack, but a little explosiveness would help. Is Shawne Alston, the current starter, the answer? I can't say I'm sold.

"Very average day," Alston said after gaining 52 yards on 11 carries. "I'm disappointed in myself."

Alston was limping with a hamstring tweak and admitted he needs to cut some weight to gain some speed. Couldn't hurt.

At wide receiver, WVU entered the spring with a terrific front line, starring Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, but a concern with regard to depth. Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson believes depth was built.

"I think we did [build depth]," Dawson said. "Obviously, we want these kids coming in the fall to be able to help us. But I'm fairly pleased with how the [second string] played all spring. I think we found a couple kids that can help us.

"Jordan [Thompson] is definitely a guy that came on pretty good. I think Dante Campbell made some plays. That's another guy that wasn't on the field last year. And K.J. [Myers] redshirted last year. All three of those kids, in my opinion, showed they can help and contribute."

As an aside, George Washington High grad Cody Clay caught three passes for 31 yards and stands No. 3 at the Y receiver position, first string at tight end (if a set for that ever surfaces) and a special teams player.

But back to the concerns. Is Quinton Spain, a 6-5, 335-pound redshirt sophomore, ready to take over at left tackle for Don Barclay? So far, so good.

"I've improved a lot with my hand placement," Spain said. "But the coaches say no one has their [starting] spots. I have to have the mindset that every day I try to start."

Finally, there is that defensive line. There's big Will Clarke, nose tackle Jorge Wright and ...

 "It's a work in progress," said defensive line coach Erik Slaughter on Saturday. "We've come a long way, but we have a long way to go."

Where is improvement needed?

"Start with playing with relentless effort," Slaughter said. "That's play-in and play-out. There were times we did [Saturday] and times we could've played harder."

Depth is a major concern.

"We'll see what the freshmen bring in here," Slaughter said. "We're in a deal where Will Clarke is our starting end. Behind him is Dozey [Ezzemma]. He did a great job. We've played Tyler [Anderson] there some.

"Inside we have Jorge [Wright] and J.B. [Lageman] and Shaq [Rowell] all [starters]. At buck [linebacker], we have a good mix. Tyler's playing well over there. Josh [Francis] played well. Taige [Redman] is playing well. Then you have to put [injured] Jewone [Snow] in the mix as well."

They are big questions - and answers - that were on display in Saturday's big top.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.


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