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Dave Hickman: Freshman making strides at QB

CHRIS DORST | Gazette
William Crest (16) runs with the ball at practice Monday.

MORGANTOWN — The fact that William Crest is taking some of the reps with West Virginia’s second-team offense less than a week into fall camp is really no great surprise.

That doesn’t have as much to do with Crest’s talent or potential as it does with the makeup of the team’s core of four primary quarterbacks.

Clint Trickett is the clear starter and working with the first team. Paul Millard has been in the system longer than anyone else and knows what he’s doing as the backup. So why not spend the early part of camp giving Crest and junior college transfer Skyler Howard some practical experience and see what they can do?

It would be as silly not to try them both out as it would be redundant to have Millard eating up the same reps he’s been taking for three previous years now.

Where things will get interesting is if Crest shows that he can adapt quickly. If he does, Dana Holgorsen seems to have few reservations about throwing him right into the quarterback mix.

“Yeah, I would like to do that if he continues to improve,’’ Holgorsen said Monday. “Because I think he’s a pretty good player.’’

The truth is, Crest has more of an up side and more potential for growth than any of the four. That’s really not even arguable. Trickett and Millard are seniors who are now ingrained in the system and have the upper hand. They also have four months remaining in their careers.

Howard has his strong points, not the least of which is he has three years of eligibility that he can use over the next four seasons. But he’s also a guy who barely a year ago had no Division I offers, in part because at an even 6-feet he doesn’t have prototypical QB size.

And then there is Crest, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound, four-star recruit with five years to play four. And, as Holgorsen said last week, he just looks different than the others. He can do things the others can’t, too, as if his presence returning punts — yes, punts — during Monday’s first full-padded practice wasn’t evidence enough of that.

But there are two things about Crest’s quest for any sort of playing time this season that are potential stumbling blocks. For starters, Holgorsen has never been one to dabble in a two-quarterback system and he appears committed to Trickett as his one. That’s probably the smart choice, too, given that a healthy, experienced quarterback was a major missing piece of last year’s 4-8 puzzle.

The second is Crest’s complete lack of experience. That’s not easy to overcome. You don’t just put a guy behind center and tell him to play. He has a lot of learning to do and not much time to do it.

“You can overload a guy,’’ Holgorsen said. “There’s a reason why Johnny Manziel redshirted. There’s a reason by Jameis Winston redshirted. Those are your latest two Heisman Trophy guys.’’

But if there’s someone who can disrupt those rules about experience — at least with this team — it might be Crest. And already Holgorsen seems to have an eye pointed in that direction.

Less than a week into camp, there is already a Crest package.

“The plays we call with William out there are not the same plays we call with Clint,’’ Holgorsen said. “That’s a little bit too technical for him right now.’’

Indeed, the Crest package right now seems merely to be a dumbed-down version of the basic offense. No doubt there are fewer reads, no audibles, basic runs and throws. The idea is that if Crest had to play, he could do so in an offense that doesn’t overwhelm a true freshman.

What if Crest catches on quickly, though? That’s certainly the hope. And if he does, that package could grow from one tailored to Crest’s skills if he HAS to play into one tailored to Crest’s skills if Holgorsen WANTS to play him.

There’s a huge difference.

The term wildcat quarterback comes to mind, although perhaps that’s not what it would be in the strictest sense. Think of a Crest package as more of a change of pace.

It all depends, however, on Crest and his development. And that’s something impossible to predict.

“I don’t want to put too much on his plate,’’ Holgorsen said. “If that package doesn’t look very good we won’t do it.

“But if he improves over the next three weeks in those specific things that he can do better than Clint can do when he’s in there, we’d be more than happy to do that.’’

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1


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