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WVU football: Spring yields no answer at quarterback

By Mike Casazza, WVU Beat Writer
Mel Moraes/For the Daily Mail
WVU quarterback Skyler Howard runs with the ball during the Gold-Blue Game on Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia’s spring football season ended Saturday but offered no conclusion for the topic that persevered through 14 practices and one spring game and will now persist through the rest of the offseason.

“We don’t have a starting quarterback right now,” said Shannon Dawson, arguably the person most concerned with that status since he is WVU’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Now, to be fair, no one expected anyone to take control of the competition and then run away from the suitors. Senior Paul Millard, walk-on senior Logan Moore and sophomore junior college transfer Skyler Howard each did encouraging things in the offense’s first win against the defense in three years. Soon, they’ll have company.

Senior Clint Trickett, who started seven games last season, should be cleared to participate when summer classes begin next month. He missed the spring recovering from shoulder surgery in January. Freshman William Crest, who was at Saturday’s scrimmage at Mountaineer Field, is expected to enroll during the summer.

That pool of players will shrink pretty quickly once practice begins in August as the coaches give two players — maybe three — all the reps.

“Probably within the first week,” Dawson said.

What happens between now and then is as important as it is interesting for the fortunes of the 2014 team.

“The process is simple,” Dawson said. “We’re going to sit down as an offensive staff and go through the pros and the cons of the three guys who went through the spring. Then we’re going to sit down and have discussions with those guys.”

When all five are healthy and available in the summer, they’ll get a boost by a new NCAA rule that increases a coach’s access to players during summer classes. The eight-week period allows for up to eight hours a week of required strength and conditioning, though up to two of the eight hours can be devoted to film.

The Mountaineers have about 850 snaps of live football to use as proof of a player’s strengths and weaknesses. The last six practices were live, which meant defenders could hit the quarterback and that the quarterback had to play with new consequences in mind.

Each of the spring quarterbacks gave the Mountaineers plenty to consider, right through the end of the spring game. Millard was the first quarterback on the field. He led two touchdowns drives, but also saw his offense punt three times. Millard moved the ball most consistently, though, and was 14-for-19 for 129 yards and two short touchdowns.

“Paul has probably been the same for a long time,” Dawson said. “He’s pretty consistent with what he does and he’s inconsistent at times with what he does bad. He has a hard time getting away, and taking sacks at inopportune times is a problem.”

Millard was only sacked once and, like all the others, didn’t turn over the ball. Howard, the second quarterback on the field, was sacked twice. He completed 9 of 13 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown, the only one of his four drives that ended in points.

Dawson said Howard, who played last season at Riverside (Calif.) College, still isn’t clear on what Dawson wants out of the offense and its demands, but that there are times when “you can see the wheels turning.”

“I don’t think it ever cleared up throughout the spring, to be honest with you,” Dawson said. “There were two or three days in a row where I thought it did look like it was clicking. He probably would have benefitted with more reps, but you can’t sit there and dump all the reps into one guy, because there’s competition.”

That includes Moore. The transfer from Fairmont State was a receiver last season, but proved to be more than just an extra arm around to make sure all the players on offense got reps. Moore led three straight field goal drives in the game and completed 10 of 21 passes for 109 yards. He also ran three times for 35 yards, and a 28-yard scramble aided by a block from Andrew Buie was among the game’s offensive highlights.

“One of the things Logan can do is he has the ability to extend plays when things get bad,” Dawson said.

None of them could prevent Crest or Trickett from being part of the thought process now. Dawson said Trickett was “our best quarterback we had last year when he was healthy.” Trickett was hurt in his first start, played injured in his second, didn’t tell anyone about a concussion later and missed the following game because of the concussion. Dawson said the staff is mindful of Trickett’s size and injuries and knows WVU “better have a backup plan.”

“He’s a light kid,” Dawson said. “That’s really the evaluation of him I had when I talked to him after the season. When he’s healthy, he functions pretty good. Look at the games he was healthy in. But when you start getting banged up, you can’t function at a high level. When he got banged up, he struggled.”

Dawson called 6-foot-2, 210-pound Crest, from Baltimore’s Dunbar High, the “unknown factor,” but was quick to say that won’t be used against Crest, even though he’ll have the fewest overall practice and game opportunities to make an impression. When allowed, Crest and Dawson talk regularly because Crest is trying to get as familiar as possible before he arrives.

“We’re definitely going to give that kid a chance,” Dawson said. “There are kids who can come in early and function in that role and there are kids who can’t. I don’t know what his, I guess, maturity mentally is. Physically, you can look at him today and I don’t know how much better he’s going to look four years from right now. That’s not going to be the issue with that kid, but mental maturity, can he handle the situations, can he handle the offense, that’s a question mark.”

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymailwv.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.


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