March 5, 2013
Search for a QB begins
WVU spring practice marks start of competition to replace Smith
AP Photo
WVU coach Dana Holgorsen needs to replace a lot of offensive weapons, none more so than quarterback Geno Smith.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - For Dana Holgorsen, the 15 West Virginia spring practices that begin Sunday will be kind of nostalgic.

No, it's not a chance to work with old friends or anything like that, although sprinkled throughout his roster are some familiar faces. Contrary to the general perception, it isn't a complete rebuilding job he faces in his third season as the WVU coach.

But as far as the marquee skill positions are concerned, well, yes, this is going to take a complete overhaul. It includes rebuilding a wide receiver corps that lost arguably the best 1-2 punch in college football last season in Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.

More significant than that, though, is the task of replacing three-year starter Geno Smith at quarterback. No matter who ultimately wins the job, it means replacing the most productive passer - by far - in school history and a guy who in the last two seasons managed to get a handle on Holgorsen's offense perhaps better than any quarterback he's ever had.

And that's where the nostalgia comes in. It's been quite some time since Holgorsen had to first find and then train a new signal caller.

"This is the first quarterback competition I've had personally since my first year in Houston,'' said Holgorsen, whose first year as the offensive coordinator there was 2008. "I'm kind of excited about it.''

Indeed, in the years since then, Holgorsen has trained quarterbacks in his system, but he's never had to basically conduct tryouts to find the guy he thinks is best suited to train. When he arrived at West Virginia, Smith was the clear-cut best quarterback on the roster and a guy perfectly suited to Holgorsen's style. Before that, he showed up at Oklahoma State as the offensive coordinator and was presented with Brandon Weeden, a mature former professional baseball player who was obviously best suited for the job.

And in his second and last year as the offensive coordinator at Houston, he had Case Keenum, who would wind up as one of the most prolific passers in college football history.

It was only the year before that, when Keenum was an unknown, that Holgorsen faced the task of selecting someone from a crowd.

"It was 15 practices in the spring and 15 more in August before we made that decision,'' Holgorsen said.

This time around, the candidates are pretty clear cut, but only one has ever taken a college snap and never under any real prolonged pressure. Junior Paul Millard, who has been Smith's backup the last two seasons, has thrown only a handful of passes and really only once when a game was in doubt. He relieved Smith for a play at Oklahoma State last season when Smith's helmet came off and Millard threw a fourth-down touchdown pass on the play.

The only other scholarship quarterbacks on the roster are redshirt freshman Ford Childress and true freshman Chavas Rawlins, who graduated early from high school in Monessen, Pa., and was one of five January enrollees among the freshman class.

The only other quarterback on the roster is walk-on Logan Moore from Fairmont, who actually has more college experience than any of the others, although it was as the starter at Division II Fairmont.

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