[West Virginia held an assistant coaches and player media availability Thursday, and our intern Ryan Petrovich was on hand to gather the Mountaineers' summer updates. Here's his story.]
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Clint Trickett was officially named West Virginia's starting quarterback earlier this week. Last season, a starter wasn’t named until Week 1, and the carousel of quarterbacks left the team’s offense searching for answers.
Head coach Dana Holgorsen decided not to take that approach this season: Trickett will be WVU’s guy going into Week 1 against Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game Aug. 30.
Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson believes naming Trickett as the starter is not only good for Trickett’s confidence, not having to look over his shoulder through the summer and during fall camp, but it also provides early leadership for the entire offense.
“This group going into last year was a very inexperienced group, including [Trickett],” Dawson said. “That group needs leadership and they look to him anyways. We feel like it's clear-cut in our mind or we wouldn’t do it. It’s going to give him confidence when you know you’re the guy and there’s no questions about it.
“This unit right here, was in my opinion looking for somebody, they needed somebody to be a leader. It’s hard to be a leader when you’re not the starter. It clears up a lot of things he can have a clear mind, relax, get better and not worry about trying to win the job every day.”
Trickett is confident he can get the job done. He said being named starter this early has allowed his focus to be solely on the team.
“It’s huge,” Trickett said. “They [players] know who to look to. I’m more comfortable. I don’t have to worry about [who will be the starter]. I can focus on my game and getting the team better. Last year we worried about it, we all wanted to win it, maybe we worried about that too much and didn’t focus on getting the team better. We won’t have that problem this year.”
The constant wondering of who will be the quarterback each week caused plenty of headaches for receivers such as Kevin White.
“It was very frustrating,” White said. “Everything was frustrating last year, but last year’s over with. It puts me at ease because I know who is going to be throwing to me, how he’s going to signal it, how he’s going to throw it to me, so we’re on the same page.”
Bradley settling in
One difference this season is that coaches are allowed to spend extra time with players during these summer months. Tom Bradley, WVU’s new senior associate head coach, is making the most of that time.
“[The extra availability] is the big thing, especially for a guy like me who is new,” Bradley said. “Just getting more time with them in the meeting room and not being stressed that we need to get things done right away.”
Before taking the position at WVU this spring, Bradley spent more than 30 years under Joe Paterno at Penn State. Bradley likes what he sees in his new surroundings, though. The transition from State College, Pa., to Morgantown has been a smooth one.
“I think the way the players gravitate to you, and the way the coaches have a good give and take, I’m used to that,” Bradley said. “They have good camaraderie going here between the players, the coaches and the strength staff, and that’s very impressive. I’m used to being around that environment.”
Expectations for an improved defense
WVU’s defense will expect further improvement in 2014. During the air-raid offensive seasons of Geno Smith and company, the other side of the ball was far from productive.
But the defense saw marginally better results last season. This season, the defense will be led by returning safety Karl Joseph, who is projected to be one of the best safeties in the conference. The athletic secondary will be one of the high points for WVU.
Despite the rising expectations, Bradley isn’t going to jump to any conclusions — too many things could still go awry.
“I don’t ever make predictions on defense of where we’re heading or not heading,” Bradley said. “There’s so many factors that go into that: your opponents, how your offense is playing, and injuries of course always play a key factor. The only stat I’ve ever looked at on defense is a lot is did you win or lose the game.”
The Mountaineers also landed FCS All-American defensive end Shaq Riddick, a transfer from Gardner-Webb, to beef up the defensive front. Riddick, still finishing his Gardner-Webb degree, has yet to be able to work with coaches.
“[We’re] not even able to work with Shaquille,” Bradley said. “He’s here, we’re not allowed to do anything with him, meet with him, he’s got to pass those tests and actually graduate. ... We’ll get a chance to see him when we get started, what he can do. He’ll have to get a catch up because the other guys will be ahead of him in terms of terminology and all those things. That’s very easy to catch up on.”
Backfield remains crowded
Like last season, the Mountaineers will display another jam-packed backfield. Even after losing Charles Sims, last year’s leading rusher, to the NFL, WVU still has some of the most talented running backs in the conference.
With players like Rushel Shell, Dreamius Smith, Andrew Buie, Wendell Smallwood and Dustin Garrison, it begs the question: will there be room for all of them?
“There’s room for all of us. I’m going to leave that in their hands, let the coaches make that final call,” Smith said. “I’m just going to go out there and give it my all and do what I can.”
Even though all of these backs are currently on the roster and gunning for the starting job, some might see more action lining up as a receiver.
“We got guys who can line up at receiver," Smith said. "Wendell, Dustin, Buie, me and Rushel, we can line up out there. Everyone can do something out there that involves that. They’re going to get us out there as much as they can every game and put people in different positions. We’re just going to make the best of it.”