West Virginia finally hits the practice field on Tuesday for its spring drills. The Mountaineers finished tied for second in the Big East in 2009 and bring back a wealth of starters, including stars Noel Devine and Jock Sanders. I caught up with West Virginia coach Bill Stewart late last week to talk about the Mountaineers' spring. This is the first part of our conversation. Check back later for Part II.
You've had longer than most teams to go through lifting and conditioning. Anyone or anything standing out in offseason workouts?
Bill Stewart: We've had tremendous senior leadership. I don't like our underclassmen leadership at this point. You don't have to be a senior to lead. You just have to be a player to lead. And how you become a leader is by being accountable. Chris Neild is leading. J.T. Thomas is leading. Robert Sands is leading. Sidney Glover is leading. Offensive line, Donnie Barclay is doing a great job. Tyler Urban is doing a great job.
Noel and Jock are absolutely driving themselves with such a passion. They, on offense, have been the true team champions. Not just the fact that they came back and want to graduate, but they're putting themselves in a position to graduate in December. Their leadership skills in the winter have been outstanding.
We only had one senior linemen last year and none on defense, and we only have one senior lineman this year. Think about that. We won 19 games [since Stewart took over] and in the past two years we've had one senior lineman last year and one this year. We're fired up about that.
And Tavon Austin, holy cow. All I can say is wow. This guy, he is going to explode onto the scene.
You've got him listed as a wide receiver this year, which is new for him.
BS: I'm going to put the best players on the field. And if Noel goes down, I'll put him at tailback with Ryan Clarke. The best players are going to play. Tavon Austin is going to play. He's got to play.
The question most people probably want to know is, how is Geno Smith doing? And what will he be able to do when you start practice?
BS: Geno has been throwing pass skeleton on his own. I've not seen it, but I've heard about it. The trainers have watched him and said he was was standing with a knee on a chair throwing, then he got to where the chair was removed. His foot was in a boot, and he's out of the boot now. He can stand and throw it, he can hand off. We're not going to bootleg him or let him scrimmage or anything. By the end of spring, the end of April, he should be moving around pretty well. So I'm not worried about him. I'm going to keep him out of the scrimmages and everything, but we'll get done what we need to do.
So you think he'll get enough first-team reps to get ready for the fall?
BS: Oh, yeah, we just won't go live. And I'm looking for Coley White. Coley just wants to play. He asked to go to receiver, and he wants a shot so we'll put him out there. But I think Coley can still play quarterback. He doesn't throw the ball maybe as well as some of the other guys but he's a good little athlete and a good player and a great guy. And he's a competitor. And then Bary Brunetti and Jeremy Johnson will be here early. Barry will be done the 15th of May.
So will Coley get some looks at receiver this spring, or do you need him at quarterback too much?
BS: We'll put Bradley Starks in there some, and that's when Coley can go run some routes and see if he can pitch it and catch it a little bit. I want to see Coley because he's one of our fastest kids and quickest kids and I think one of our most dependable young men. So I'd like to see him get a little bit of a shot at the slot, but he has to play quarterback. He'll be able to play quarterback and the slot, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Any update on the statuses of Logan Heastie or Deon Long?
BS: I'd rather not say anything about guys who don't want to be here. It's hard to play Division I football and it's not for everybody. Some people are not willing to strain and make the sacrifice. I'll coach ones that are here; those are the ones that I'm worried about.
How do you feel overall about your depth at receiver without those guys?
BS: I think Bradley Starks has a chance to have a breakout year. Now, will he? We'll have to wait and see. He had a really good year last year and made some nice, big catches toward the end of the year. He's got all the athleticism and he has a chance to make a fine living someday. But part of that is mastering the collegiate level. He has to have a breakout year.
I think Tavon Austin will be outstanding. I think this guy is the next budding superstar at West Virginia. I think he's got a lot of Jock and a lot of Noel in him. Our two tight ends, Tyler Urban and Will Johnson, to me are as good as there are in the league. Chris Snook is a good young player who's a redshirt freshman. So we're very solid at tight end and H-back.
Last year we only played three wide receivers. We played Alric Arnett, Wes Lyons and Bradley Starks. Jock was in the slot. But it's going to be all out there in the open for Ivan McCartney. He has a chance to really be a player, a chance to be a dandy. Will he be, or will J.D. Woods fight a little bit, will Ryan Nehlen fight a little bit? Those are two good young players. But Ivan McCartney has a chance to play real early.
You bring back four starters on the offensive line who played nearly every snap last year. But how much do those guys have to improve?
BS: I thought we played well, but I didn't think we played real well in the second half of the bowl game. Down the stretch, they played their hearts out. That Cincinnati game, that Pitt game and the Rutgers game in the rain, they played their hearts out. I think Barclay, Josh Jenkins, Joey Madsen and Eric Jobe are solid as can be. We've just got to find another tackle, and we will.
We've got some nice young players that are going to be able to get those guys off the field and get them out of the game from now on. Win, lose or draw, we need to get some young people playing, and we will. We can't do this again. Those boys got beat up late. They played 800 snaps.