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Mike Casazza: Mountaineers coach could see stock rise with draft picks

NEW YORK -- The idea behind being here this week was to witness history. The idea that's been hard to shake, while at the same time by no means imminent, is about the future.

West Virginia had never had two football players drafted in the same first round before Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall, a monumental moment that's evaded the program that has the most wins without a national championship.

Stop and think about the college and NFL Hall of Fame players who have played at the old and the new Mountaineer Field and feuded with Miami and South Florida, with Pitt and Penn State, with Virginia Tech and Richmond, with Washington & Lee and Washington & Jefferson. Realize none of those good teams and great champions had two players skilled enough to be picked in the same first round.

WVU's first ever draft pick was Joe Stydahar, a first-rounder from Shinnston in 1936. There were just seven other first-round picks before the Seattle Seahawks snatched Bruce Irvin early last year. The Mountaineers have had gaps of 20, 18 and 10 years between first round picks, but Tavon Austin cut the wait to just 12 months when the St. Louis Rams selected him with the No. 8 pick.

While the world waited to hear Geno Smith's name, Austin still gave WVU a distinction. The Mountaineers had never had first-round picks in consecutive years.

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WVU football: Geno Smith continues waiting game at home

The mind now races to the future and wonders who among the current Mountaineers will catch an owner's eye or convince a general manager to draw up a big contract. Is he on the roster? Was he just toiling in a junior college or a high school gym class? Have the assistant coaches been out recruiting him this week?

Or is this a trick question?

The name that entertains the frontal lobe most is Dana Holgorsen's.

Laugh, scoff, turn the page, click the mouse or simply pause for a moment. NFL teams are simultaneously drafting college players and mimicking college offenses. The cycle is coming back again to hiring college coaches.

"Forever in the history of the NFL, the brain drain went from the NFL down to college and all the college coaches would go to NFL camps and try to learn as much as they could and all that information and technique and production got pushed down to the college level," NFL Network and Notre Dame analyst Mike Mayock said. "And now, because the college game has changed so much, the NFL has become fascinated about the spread and how they're identifying mismatches in space."

This is an offensive league now, a league that markets itself on entertainment. Why did the Tampa Bay Buccaneers trade a first-round pick for Darrelle Revis? Not to pair him opposite Eric Wright and form one of the league's better cornerback combos, but to contend with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton twice a year in the division.

These offenses are diversifying and defenses are charged with keeping pace, which in turn encourages the offenses to keep growing.

"I've never seen in my life more NFL coaches call up their college buddies and say, 'Hey, can I come watch you coach? Hey, can I sit down and watch tape with you? Hey, talk to me about tempo. How many snaps a game are you getting? Why are you getting them? What's the best way to do it? How do you rotate your players?'" Mayock said.

Teams are searching for advantages on offense, edges they can exploit to stay ahead, and often they inquire about how they can get better with college principles. Why else would Chip Kelly be hired by the Philadelphia Eagles and have no NFL experience? Why are teams trying to find a place in their organization for former Nevada Coach Chris Ault and his knowledge of his Pistol offense?

It's expanding, not vanishing. Spread offenses are still very much en vogue and they figure to be that way for as long as quarterbacks and receivers make so much money. There's value in creating ways to find green space and make use of it. Holgorsen is very good at that. It's the essence of his offense.

He's also riding the next wave that's beginning to hit the shores of the NFL. Teams play fast now. If you can collect talent on the roster and then overwhelm the other team with the volume of plays, you increase your chances to win. Bill Belichick, who certainly knows his game, quizzed college coaches, including Kelly, before the 2012 season about tempo. The New England Patriots led the NFL in offenses and snaps.

Holgorsen has answers to questions others might ask. He knows how to frame and teach the offense and he knows how to tutor the quarterbacks. In the NFL, there are no time constraints on working with players like there are in the NCAA. There's also the difference between recruiting players you can get and signing, trading for and drafting the players you want.

Smith may hit or miss and Austin may dazzle or dwindle. Time may pass before Holgorsen's name ever really rises, but time is on Holgorsen's side. He's in the early stages of refurbishing a program and re-energizing an offense with new parts and maybe even a new slant with a likely lucrative running game. Eyes will always be on what he does because what he does is so revered by football minds. As the game expands, a team might commit its future to what's happening right now.

"That's what you see the NFL kind of going to a little bit," Holgorsen said in response to a question about Austin that evolved into a statement about the new direction of the NFL. "From the current head coaches and offensive coordinators that were there last year to some of the guys that have been hired, you're seeing a movement toward a little bit more of the college game."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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