Spring Practice Primer: West Virginia Mountaineers

By Lorenzo Reyes | Staff Writer

West Virginia will be expecting big things from sophomore wide receiver Jordan Thompson
West Virginia will be expecting big things from sophomore wide receiver Jordan Thompson. (USATSI)

College football never ends, and during the next few weeks teams will be getting ready for the 2013 season in their spring practice sessions. Here's a look at the West Virginia Mountaineers and what they'll be working on this spring.

Spring practice began: March 10

Spring game: April 20

2012 record: 7-6 (4-5 Big 12)

Returning starters: Nine (three offense, six defense)

Behind a prolific offense, West Virginia stormed out of the gate to start the 2012 season, winning its first five games. During that month-long stretch, many were talking about the Mountaineers as a potential Big 12 champion and a contender for a spot in a BCS bowl. All eyes were on West Virginia's Air Raid offense, which often appeared like something out of a video game (70 points, 807 total yards, 656 passing yards against Baylor on Sept. 29). However, the next five games went exactly the opposite, as the Mountaineers lost all of them. West Virginia's defense was among the worst in the country, allowing an average of 38.1 points per game, 114th-best in the country in 2012. With only nine starters from 2012 returning, next year will be one filled with transition, and the spring will be essential in preparing inexperienced players for the fall.

The Least You Should Know About West Virginia This Spring

-- The three biggest pieces from West Virginia's offense in 2012 are gone, but quarterback is the most important. First and foremost, the departure of Geno Smith to the NFL will leave a massive void at the position. Last year, Smith completed 71.2 percent of his passes for 4,205 yards, 42 touchdowns and five interceptions for a 163.9 passing efficiency rating -- sixth-best in the country. Everywhere that coach Dana Holgorsen has been, quarterback play has been an essential piece in determining offensive success. In the past two seasons, Smith has been the unquestioned leader of Holgorsen's philosophy. Spring practice will be the first step in determining who will step up and be the next quarterback at West Virginia. The early favorites are senior Paul Millard and Ford Childress. Millard, a junior, is more experienced than Childress, who is a red-shirt freshman. Don't count out mid-semester enrollee Chavas Rawlins, an exciting freshman from Monessen, Pa. Millard is the only Mountaineer quarterback on the roster to have attempted a pass in his career, and is 16-of-34, with 211 passing yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Most of those plays came in back-up duty behind Smith. No matter who starts to separate himself from the rest of the pack in the spring, expect the quarterback competition to carry well into the fall.

-- In addition to determining the quarterback, West Virginia needs to figure out whom his targets will be. With the departures of wide receivers Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and J.D. Woods, West Virginia loses 289 receptions, 3,548 receiving yards and 41 receiving touchdowns. Coupled with transfers, five of West Virginia's top six wide receivers are gone. Needless to say, the cupboard is completely bare. Sophomore Jordan Thompson had a productive spring last year, but that translated into a quiet fall. He'll get the chance to become one of the premier wide receivers, based alone on the fact that he has some experience and knowledge of the playbook. Another favorite to get considerable practice reps with the first team is early enrollee and junior college transfer Kevin White, a 6-4, 210-pound target. Before four-star wide receiver Shelton Gibson arrives in the fall, look for mid-semester enrollee and true freshman Daikiel Shorts to attempt to get a jump start on assimilating into the offense. Once Gibson does get to Morgantown, however, he should figure prominently into the passing game.

-- It's not all offense that West Virginia needs to worry about in the spring. Don't forget that this Mountaineer team was one of the worst defensive units in the country last year. For as prolific as the offense was at times in 2012, the defense habitually ceded big plays. West Virginia ranked 118th in passing defense (312.5 yards per game) and 119th in passing efficiency defense (166.7). Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson takes over play-calling duties from associate head coach Joe DeForest, who is still with the Mountaineers. West Virginia returns six defensive starters, most notably sophomore safety Karl Joseph, the team's leading tackler in 2012 with 104 stops. Also returning for his second season in Morgantown is linebacker Isaiah Bruce, who registered 94 tackles in 2012, second-best on the Mountaineers. Another notable change for West Virginia was the hiring of Brian Mitchell as cornerbacks coach in January, replacing Daron Roberts. Even a modest improvement in the secondary would be a big step in the right direction for West Virginia, as it was the clear weakness on defense.

Follow Lorenzo Reyes @LReyesCBS

 
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