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WVU football: Mountaineers addressing offense and depth for rest of spring

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia's football team returned from a nine-day hiatus Sunday with a workout Coach Dana Holgorsen designed to "get the spring break out of them."

It worked pretty well - and perhaps too well.

"Several of them showed us what they had to eat earlier in the day," Holgorsen said.

Tuesday's practice was the first for the Mountaineers since they split up following the March 22 practice. They started, though in earnest, to take on a new appearance.

The first six practices were essentially for installation only and two of those were without pads. The remainder of the spring is now supposed to address specifics and situations.

WVU will be a little more particular with its offense than defense because the offense has more in and can proceed faster than the defense. Tuesday saw the Mountaineers work on goal line and scoring zone drills for the first time

"We've got to get a lot better on third down, we've got to get a better scoring percentage in the score zone and a better touchdown percentage in the score zone and we've got to get better at short-yardage, goal line stuff," Holgorsen said. "We just started doing that stuff (Tuesday) so it looked different from what we've been doing, but we can watch that stuff on tape and build on it from there."

And they'll do just that. The Mountaineers ranked No. 18 nationally in 2011 in red zone scoring (88.52 percent) and No. 25 in red zone touchdown percentage (67.21), but No. 61 in third-down conversion percentage (40.56). Tuesday's new direction didn't exactly excite Holgorsen.

"It didn't look very good out there, so we've got to improve on that just like we've got to improve on other stuff," Holgorsen said.

With two weeks completed and then a week spent thinking about where to take spring practice once it resumed, WVU will also now start to look for and build depth. The Mountaineers are prepping and even welcoming backups on offense.

They're trying to find the most reliable reserves at the four receiver positions and develop depth on the offensive line, but they're also dealing with only a few scholarship running backs.

Sophomore Dustin Garrison is out for the spring because of knee surgery and only sophomore Andrew Buie and senior Shawne Alston carried the ball last season.

At fullback, Matt Lindamood left the team for health reasons last week and left only senior Ryan Clarke, who has excelled thus far.

"It's hard to find depth with Garrison being hurt," running backs coach Robert Gillespie said. "We have Shawne and Buie, but the dark horse, the guy that has stepped up and has taken pressure off, is Ryan Clarke. Clarke is a kid that carried the ball a lot in the past, but he proved that he was a willing blocker and he bought into his role.

Holgorsen said linebacker Donovan Miles moved from linebacker to fullback to address the shortage. Miles, a senior from Stafford, Va., has barely played and has just nine career tackles to his name.

"He'll probably find more playing time moving over to offense," Holgorsen said. "His attitude has been great about it."

The only adjustment at quarterback will be subtle. The Mountaineers, who last spring had no choice but to throw a lot at Geno Smith and Paul Millard, who should have been in high school, but enrolled early. Both are back this season and the plan is to redshirt true freshman Ford Childress, who also enrolled early.

Childress will still get reps, but nowhere near the almost 50-50 split Millard had last season because he and Smith needed to learn the offense in a hurry.

"It's in the best interest of the football team to do that, just because Paul is so far ahead with all the reps he got," Holgorsen said. "We'll let Ford absorb it and get a bunch of reps this year and then we'll let him come in and compete for the job next year."

The urgency on defense is there, but it's not yet as specific as the players and coaches try to install and digest the 3-4 defense. The depth chart is a concern, though. Players on the defensive line are moving around, linebackers and safeties are learning new jobs and cornerback Pat Miller is out for the rests of the spring.

Miller, a senior who started nine games last season and figured to start alongside junior Brodrick Jenkins in 2012, broke a bone in his foot in the last practice before the break. Holgorsen said Miller had surgery Tuesday and should be fine in two months.

The team isn't fine without him.

"We're not very deep at corner," Holgorsen said. "We have Brodrick Jenkins and we have (sophomore) Avery Williams, who obviously needs work. We have (freshman) Terrell Chestnut, who obviously needs work.

"Lawrence Smith is a guy who didn't play last year and is back this year. He needs reps. Cecil Level needs reps, but he's another walk-on. We're thin and I think we're down to three scholarship cornerbacks."

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



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