By Cam Huffman
Although the contents brought about as much of a surprise as a over the hill balloon at a 40th birthday party, there were a few interesting nuggets in the post-spring depth chart that West Virginia University sent out Wednesday morning.
The position that probably created the most discussion was quarterback — shocking, I know — where Clint Trickett’s name was on the top line. Although Trickett didn’t participate in spring drills — he was rehabbing after offseason shoulder surgery — it was pretty clear at the annual Gold-Blue Spring Game that it was the senior’s job to lose.
When head coach Dana Holgorsen made Logan Moore, Paul Millard and Skyler Howard free game to the Mountaineer defense — taking away the traditional red jerseys that normally forbid contact on the quarterback — it was pretty obvious that he was either about as bright as Alaska in January or that he didn’t feel as though any of the three were going to win the starting job.
If Trickett’s the guy — and the assumption is a good one, because William Crest, WVU’s incoming freshman, will have little time to learn the system and show his skills when he arrived this summer — there are still plenty of questions. Trickett showed some positives at times last year — he’s fearless and his teammates rally around him — but he also battled injuries and struggled to fully grasp Holgorsen’s offense.
Will his 6-foot-2, 175-pound frame be able to withstand the punishment of a full season in the Big 12? Did a year of experience and a full offseason help in his understanding of Holgorsen’s plan and signals? Only time will tell. But with Moore, a Fairmont State transfer, Millard, a senior who has never been able to take control of the starting job, and Howard, a junior college transfer that failed to step forward and take control in the spring, all listed on the same line behind Trickett on the most recent depth chart, it’s clear that the Mountaineers will go only as far as the Florida State transfer can take them in 2014.
The rest of the offense was fairly predictable. Adam Pankey, Quinton Spain, Tyler Orlosky, Mark Glowinski and Marquis Lucas made up the first-team offensive line, from left to right, and Mario Alford and Kevin White were the top two outside receivers — with Jordan Thompson and Daikiel Shorts the top inside guys. Cody Clay, as expected, will be the top H-back, a fullback/tight end hybrid.
The running back pecking order was of some interest, especially the bottom two. Andrew Buie, who led the team in rushing in 2012 before sitting out last season, was in the fifth position, just behind 2011’s top rusher, Dustin Garrison, who has battled through injuries since a stellar freshman season.
Dreamius Smith, now a senior after transferring from Butler Community College, is listed as the top running back after rushing for 494 yards and five touchdowns on 103 carries last fall. He’s just ahead of sophomore Wendell Smallwood, who rushed for 221 yards and a touchdown on 39 carries as a freshman, while Pitt transfer Rushel Shell, who holds the Pennsylvania High School rushing record, is third.
Don’t look too much into this order. All of these backs will get carries, and if one gets hot, he will carry the load. But when the two at the bottom have led the team in rushing and the No. 3 guy was one of the top high school prospects in his state as a senior, it definitely says something about the depth at the position. Now it’s up to Holgorsen to find the best way to use that talent.
The defensive chart didn’t exactly shock anybody, either. Dontrill Hyman and Christian Brown were the top two defensive ends, with Kyle Rose in the middle. Isaiah Bruce, Nick Kwiatkoski and Brandon Golson made up what has the potential to be one of the best linebacking units WVU has had in years. KJ Dillon will be playing the Spur, a hybrid linebacker/defensive back that seems to fit his talents perfectly.
Ishmael Banks and Daryl Worley, whom both Hologrsen and first-year defensive coordinator Tony Gibson showered with heavy praise at the conclusion of spring, are the top two corners, while Jeremy Tyler and Karl Joseph were listed as the starters at safety.
All of these names were as expected, but simply seeing the lineup on paper gives a clear indication of just how improved this defense could be in 2014 after two sub-par seasons in a row.
The question is health. While the defensive line and linebacking starters looks solid, the depth behind them isn’t stellar.
Special teams also appear to be a strength with Josh Lambert, who put on a show in the spring game, listed as the starting kicker, and Nick O’Toole, who became a fan favorite with his big mustache and strong leg, the starting punter.
Mario Alford, who returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in the spring game, appears ready for a big year as the kick returner. Jordan Thompson and Vernon Davis are the top two listed as punt returners, but Holgorsen has made it clear he’s hoping one of the newcomers that joins the team this summer will be able to create some competition at what was a weak spot for the Mountaineers in 2013.
— E-mail: chuffman
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.