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Dave Hickman: No guarantees, but Mountaineer offense at least on same page

MORGANTOWN — To paint Shannon Dawson as either an optimist or a pessimist would probably be wrong.

He’s a realist.

Sure, West Virginia’s offensive coordinator thinks the group he’ll put on the field is better than the one that stunk up just about every joint it played in a year ago. That’s the optimistic side.

He also knows that so many things went wrong in 2013, it would be hard just to wave a wand and have them all magically disappear this fall. That’s probably as close to pessimism as he’ll get.

Put it this way. While he knows the job he and his offense are up against and he truly believes his group has made substantial progress, he’s not going to stand on deck and proclaim mission accomplished.

“I’m not ready to pat them on the back yet,’’ Dawson said. “We haven’t gotten a first down yet.’’

Or a touchdown or a field goal or a big play or a third-down conversion or, shoot, even a single yard.

But the elements are all there. And the most significant is experience.

True, that’s probably an overused word. It doesn’t matter if a guy is experienced if all his experiences have been bad. Experience is kind of like leadership. Both are necessary, but they’re also far more conceptual than practical. Give me a guy who can run fast, throw well, hit hard or whatever it is he needs to do over an experienced leader who can’t do those things nearly as well any day.

Here’s the thing about West Virginia’s offense a year ago, though. It had guys who could do those things. But they’d never worked together or in the system in which they’d been placed.

Now they have. They’ve done it through a full season and a spring and the offseason and two weeks of preseason camp.

Dawson pointed to a great example the other day. The guy he was talking about was one who hasn’t been here long, true freshman receiver Lamar Parker.

“The [defense] voided an area and Lamar was playing inside receiver,’’ Dawson said. “He didn’t look. Well, he just got here. He doesn’t know. Squirt [Jordan Thompson] and Daikiel [Shorts, the starting inside receivers] are both going to look right there because they’ve seen it a hundred times. Watching those older guys do it is huge, but ultimately it’s trial and error.’’

The point isn’t specifically about Parker, though. It’s about virtually all of West Virginia’s receivers a year ago. They were Parker. Sure, they could run and catch and even get the plays down. But they’d never seen the myriad things that can happen during those plays that demand adjustments.

The same went for the running backs and, to a great extent, the quarterbacks, too.

Now, fast-forward a year. Last year’s Parkers are this year’s Kevin Whites and Mario Alfords, the Thompsons and Shorts, the Clint Tricketts and the Dreamius Smiths and the Wendell Smallwoods. Yes, there are newcomers mixed in, too, like Parker and Rushel Shell and others, but they are just a part of the recipe, not virtually every ingredient.

The uncertainty created a year ago by all that newness — and as head coach Dana Holgorsen pointed out this week, there were three first-year offensive coaches, too — permeated the offense in every facet. Not only did the receivers and backs not have a real grasp on all the nuances, they had little to no relationship with each other.

Trickett the other day was talking about the relationship he now has with his receivers after a year, saying he can communicate with just a look or a nod or a tap on the helmet. He called it Level 400 stuff, where as last year it was probably Level 1.

“I read what he said and I think he was probably referring to non-verbal communication,’’ Dawson said. “There’s times where he can put that single receiver into four or five different routes [just with a signal]. Last year it was probably like speaking two different languages. Now they’re on the same page.’’

Again, none of that guarantees success. And Dawson knows that as well as anyone.

But starting out on the same page is certainly a huge step in the right direction for an offense that at times last season didn’t even appear to be reading from the same book.

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


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