This past week, WVU football coach Dana Holgorsen stood in the sunshine by his school’s practice field.
He went over the Mountaineer injuries. Then, as he squinted, the coach was asked to provide a little sunshine of his own — on the team about to practice a few yards away.
What can we expect from it?
The coach struggled a bit to answer.
“Well, we had a really good eight weeks of strength and conditioning,” he said. “I was very pleased with that. But we’re kind of finding our way football-wise.
“I have no idea what the identity is of this football team. I have no idea what we’ll be able to do well. … But that’s what’s fun. We’re open at every position and to every battle.”
“We’re figuring out what our schemes are going to be. We’re doing some different things special teams-wise. We’re doing some different things offensively.
“Probably the more consistent phase of what this team is has to do with defense. Continuity-wise, [defensive coordinator Tony Gibson] has been here for four years now. We kind of have our niche there. I like where we’re at with what we do. Now, are we going to have corners that can cover? Will we be able to blitz as much as we’ve wanted to in the past?”
Indeed, there are areas of concern. The aforementioned cornerback position has former junior college transfers Mike Daniels and Elijah Battle atop the depth chart. (The smart bet, though, is Syracuse transfer Corey Winfield will take one starting job. Also, keep an eye on junior college transfer Hakeem Bailey.) Currently the top two defensive ends are sophomores Adam Shuler and Reese Donahue. At center, there are more sophomores: Matt Jones and Kelby Wickline. (Wickline, however, might find a home at tackle, paving the way for Tennessee transfer Ray Raulerson to back up Jones.)
(Perhaps the most fun line from Holgorsen this past week focused on Stone Wolfley, who moved from tight end to defensive end. “He couldn’t block anybody, so we thought, shoot, let’s see if he can tackle,” said the coach. “He’s big and thick. Hey, we need D-ends!”)
Overall, though, the most fascinating angles of WVU’s team center on Florida quarterback transfer Will Grier and the Mountaineers’ health.
Let’s address the latter first. Yes, West Virginia returns standout free safety Dravon Askew-Henry, perhaps the team’s finest pure athlete. But he’s coming back from a knee injury. Yes, former top recruit Brendan Ferns, a middle linebacker, is returning. Again, though, there was a knee injury. Scheduled back is wide receiver threat Ka’Raun White — following a leg injury. Xavier Pegues, a possible starter at nose tackle, is back after shoulder surgery. And then there’s left tackle Yodny Cajuste, who is returning from a knee injury. All are key players at key spots. Will they indeed return to their prior form?
Then there’s Grier. I asked Holgorsen if he’s frustrated not having a definitive answer on the QB’s eligibility. In case you’re unaware, WVU is awaiting approval of Grier’s eligibility. As the Gazette-Mail has reported in the past, as long as he maintains standards of eligibility, he’ll be OK for the fall semester.
“I’m not worried about it,” Holgorsen said.
“Are you confident?” I asked.
“I am,” he said.
That, folks, is supreme confidence in an organization as unpredictable as the NCAA. The last we heard from WVU deputy athletic director Keli Cunningham is the ruling would be made in the summer.
Perhaps, however, Holgorsen has an inside track. And, if not, he’s laid the groundwork for the backup, redshirt sophomore Chris Chugunov.
“Chugs has looked really good,” Holgorsen said. “Everybody wants to hand it over to Will, but Chugs looks really good. Chris has taken a lot of snaps over the last couple of years and there’s a comfort level there with him that doesn’t exist with Will based on the amount of snaps he’s taken.”
The No. 3 quarterback this spring is redshirt freshman Cody Saunders.
“Cody’s shoulder has been gimped up,” Holgorsen said. “He was healthy and went home over spring [break] and overthrew. He’s been limited. I’ll be anxious to get his shoulder back to normal so we can rep him. Those are the only three arms on campus right now, which is scary. We better get all three ready.”
There’s little doubt, though, Grier will be the guy if eligible. Before being suspended all he did was lead Florida, playing in the SEC East, to a 6-0 record. He moved to WVU over offers from Ohio State and Oregon.
“Right now I see some frustration [from Grier] because he’s a perfectionist,” Holgorsen said. “He wants everything to be easy and he wants everything to look great. And that’s not reality. There’s going to be growing pains for any quarterback.
“He’s a really bright kid though. He lives in the film room. He asks a lot of questions. It’s been great having [offensive coordinator] Jake [Spavital] here. He spends three hours on Saturdays with Will if necessary. Will is a bright kid, a coach’s kid. He works hard. He wants things to look good. The ball looks really good coming out of his hands. And he’s athletic as well.”
So much so Holgorsen will protect him with all his might.
“I’m not going take the yellow jersey off him like I did Skyler [Howard] three years ago to try and get Skyler to do some things I wanted,” said the coach. “I’m not going to take that yellow jersey off Will. It will be on. If he takes off running, they will stay very far away from him.”
In other words, Grier will have a lot of daylight. Because he could just provide a bright future for his Mountaineers.