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WVU football: Holgorsen looks for new attitude from Mountaineers

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Success, as qualified by West Virginia offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, can be found in the gap between an attitude he wants players to avoid and attitude he wants them to achieve.

"It's the difference between lethargic," Holgorsen said, "and vivaciousness."

That's part of the vernacular floating around Mountaineer Field, where, during spring football the coaches have been as keen on body language as they have stick routes on offense and gap responsibility on defense.

Holgorsen, his offensive staff and their teachings are new to the Mountaineers. On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel is back with his entire staff, but together they're searching for seven new starters and all the depth that combined to give WVU the nation's third-ranked defense in 2010.

This is no time for lethargy.

"It's not what we're looking for," Holgorsen said. "We want guys who have bounce and have energy and line up quick and are anxious and alert and ready to go out and make a play."

It hasn't been easy and particularly with the offense going against the defense.

Holgorsen's offense passes far more than it runs and has kept Casteel in a lot of third-down sets, though without set third-down personnel.

Casteel's 3-3-5 defensive scheme offers a constant odd front and an alignment in the defensive backfield that perhaps none of WVU's opponents will use this season.

Yet as the spring has progressed and players have developed in the presence of the circumstances, there have been reassuring signs.

"I think it's encouraging to see some guys start to develop some chemistry, even though we're mixing and matching," Casteel said. "The communication is much, much better and guys are really doing some things we haven't seen them do really all spring."

Practice for the Mountaineers has been less about individuality and more about installing the offense and the defense. The coaches do it differently.

Casteel is putting in his base one piece at a time and making sure one thing is right before moving onto the next.

Holgorsen did everything the first three days and has spent the subsequent days going over those lessons.

By need and design, the coaching staff has incorporated a long list of players to see who can do what.

Final evaluations will wait until after the spring and probably even into camp in August, but they'll begin to look a little closer as they near the Gold Blue Game April 29.

"The latter part of this week and next week we'll probably cut it down a little bit, but we need to find not only ones (first-team players), but you want to find guys who provide depth," said Casteel, the linebacker's coach. "When we're good, we're a good two deep and in some places three deep.

"At linebacker, we've got to find five, six guys who can come in and play and have a chance to be pretty good. I think we have an idea who we can start out with, but we're trying to find some guys that can play and be a 10- or a 15-snap guy for us."

Holgorsen won't narrow his focus as much and wants to use the final five practices the same as he used the first 10 so WVU can get as much from as many people on film as is possible. That means keeping the nearly even split at quarterback between junior Geno Smith and freshman Paul Millard.

"You need a backup quarterback," said Holgorsen, the quarterbacks coach. "Because Paul is so inexperienced, we believe the best thing right now is to have a 50-50 split. As we get closer to game time and even camp, we'll start giving the starter more, which right now would be Geno."

Players have started to establish themselves. Casteel knew what he had in senior defensive lineman Julian Miller and was optimistic defensive end Bruce Irvin could be as good as he has looked. Linebacker Najee Goode, cornerback Keith Tandy and safety Terence Garvin had also made their names in the past. Yet Casteel named presumed nose guard Jorge Wright, linebacker and junior college transfer Josh Francis and freshman cornerback Avery Williams as players who have earned his attention.

"I don't know that anybody's been a great surprise," Casteel said. "We still have a lot of guys out there learning and learning to compete every day, but we have had some kids who have played well."

Tyler Urban, a former tight end who has transitioned to slot receiver, has been one of WVU's best players on offense. Holgorsen said he's identified his best four receivers.

When Brad Starks was lost last week for three months after shoulder surgery, Holgorsen moved Stedman Bailey from slot to outside.

"He and Tyler were playing the same spot," Holgorsen said. "In our opinion as a coaching staff, they were two of our top four guys."

The other two would be Tavon Austin inside and Ivan McCartney outside. Running back hasn't been as illuminating and freshman Vernard Roberts came on strong the past week and took a lot of the snaps Shawne Alston vacated when he sat out Monday. Alston is day-to-day with a neck strain, but neither he nor anyone else on offense is working on a deadline this spring.

"We're all about doing what we've got to do to piece together the next practice," Holgorsen said. "We feel like the best thing to do is to put guys in position out there so they can continue to get evaluated. More than likely things are going to change over the course of the next six months."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at or 304-319-1142. His blog is at


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