WVU making changes as spring practice begins
MORGANTOWN - Tyler Urban played the first 36 games of his college football career as West Virginia's tight end without great fanfare.
He caught just 13 passes and as a junior this past season, when he was sidelined three games by a knee injury, he had only three receptions for seven yards.
Yet the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Urban was a central figure in WVU's first spring practice Wednesday and the embodiment of what awaits the uncertain players learning a new system from not-yet-familiar arrivals on the coaching staff.
Urban was WVU's inside "Y" receiver, which may or may not last the final 15 practices up to the spring game April 29, but is nevertheless indicative of what will happen between then and now.
"We're going to move a lot of guys around here," WVU inside receivers coach Shannon Dawson said. "The first day nothing is really concrete and we're going to move people around all the way to the last day of spring to try to figure things out. This is our first time really seeing the guys do anything football-related."
Urban, who coaches say also will be in a three-back backfield, acquitted himself just fine and was an easy target for whoever was playing quarterback for the Mountaineers.
Freshmen Paul Millard and Brian Athey took a number of snaps during the final 30 minutes open to the media, but did so behind starter Geno Smith. He did as much as the staff could have hoped for after surgery in January to correct a stress fracture in his left foot.
"He looked well," Coach Bill Stewart said. "I saw him burst off on a couple plays fakes to both his left and to his right. I had to tell him, 'Whoa,' a little bit. But he came out there really well on the play fake.
"After the quarterback hands off, they can fake a throw, they can fake a bootleg or they can boost off like they're running the option. He did all three things the first day."
Stewart said he thus far likes Ryan Clarke, Shawne Alston and Trey Johnson running the ball, but "we need that quick scat back right now and we don't have one."
The Mountaineers have a list of receivers and those players and Smith are keys to coordinator Dana Holgorsen's offense, which can run the ball, but prefers to pass.
Holgorsen, who was not made available by WVU for interviews Wednesday, is at his fourth school since the start of the 2007 season and is used to working with the available talent. This time, that includes Urban and others who were recruited to a different system.
"What I told Tyler when I met him - and he was probably a little leery with us coming in - is the players who make plays get on the field.
"Bottom line," Dawson said. "We put the guys on the field who make plays. If he keeps doing what he did, he'll play."
The Mountaineers worked without pads and without contact, and the NCAA won't allow a school to put on shoulder pads until the third day, which is Saturday for West Virginia.
With those limitations in place to protect the players, WVU's defense had success up front against an offensive line working to replace graduated starter Eric Jobe at right guard and is playing without left tackle Don Barclay and right tackle Jeff Braun.
Both are out this spring after offseason shoulder surgery.
Bruce Irvin, who is attempting to get the starting spot at defensive end and bump Julian Miller to defensive tackle (vacated by Scooter Berry's graduation), ran around WVU's tackles again and again.
"I don't think we blocked him once all day," Stewart said.
That's not necessarily a problem for offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, who used redshirt freshmen Quinton Spain at left tackle and Pat Eger at right tackle.
"Bruce Irvin is as good as I've seen," said Bedanbaugh, who came to WVU from the University of Arizona. "With a guy that fast and powerful, you get tested every day, which is good. You want to go against the best guys and see how you get them blocked consistently.
"We'll give other guys a chance to get reps and move guys around and we'll see if guys can play tackle or if they're better playing guard. We'll figure out what guys are able to do and we'll more forward."
It's all part of Holgorsen's process. The offense is installed in three days and then revisited in order the following four weeks. There will be errors and bad days, but there will be occasions to come back to those instances and make fixes.
"There are going to be a lot of mistakes," Dawson said.
The Mountaineers expect that and they can address that as they move along. What Stewart and the rest of the staff won't tolerate is what they didn't encounter Wednesday.
Stewart said his team needed to practice after "a long winter" and he was impressed by how the Mountaineers and entered into the unknown.
"I told the team many, many times that I shouldn't have to coach effort," he said. "I should not have to motivate people. I mean, yeah, you do, in a certain way, but we're looking for self-motivated people and self-starters.
"We're looking for guys that are workers. For a coach to have to coach that at this level, then we've got the wrong guys. I liked what I saw with their enthusiasm."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.