West Virginia Mountaineers Spring Practice Preview: 3 Storylines To Watch

    When West Virginia begins spring practice on March 14, its main goal will be to build off last season’s 10-win campaign.

    March 2, 2017

    When West Virginia spring practice storylines for 2017. West Virginia begins spring practice on March 14 with the goal of building off last season’s 10-win campaign.


    Dana Holgorsen’s six seasons in Morgantown have been bookended by two 10-3 campaigns, including last year’s which probably saved the coach’s job. The key now for the Mountaineers will be to sustain rather than slide back into the soft underbelly of the Big 12.

    Ten wins and a final ranking in the Top 25 are what West Virginia had in mind when it hired Holgorsen in 2011. However, his fast start with the program occurred when the Mountaineers were still a part of the old Big East. Until last season, the team had struggled to adapt to life in a tougher league, hovering around .500 over a sluggish four-year stretch. The upcoming campaign could be a referendum on whether 2016 was an anomaly or the start of a trend.

    For West Virginia to remain a player in the Big 12 in 2017, it must do a fair amount of roster backfilling and player development this spring and summer. Gone from a year ago are quarterback Skyler Howard, the top two receivers, all-league center Tyler Orlosky, cornerback Rasul Douglas and the entire starting defensive line.

    West Virginia Mountaineers Spring Practice Storylines

    1. Spavital Plus Grier Could Be Special

    Howard was a nice player and a gutty leader who threw 26 touchdown passes in each of the last two years. But Will Grier, the former Florida blue-chipper, has an NFL-caliber pistol. And that right arm is going to be unleashed by new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, who’ll be calling plays in 2017.

    Spavital is one of the rising young stars among offensive assistants, having mentored the likes of Brandon Weeden, Geno Smith, Johnny Manziel and Davis Webb this decade. He’s going to love working with Grier, who was brimming with potential before being suspended for a year due to PED use.

    If the Grier-Spavital marriage flourishes, it could help turn running back Justin Crawford and wideout Ka’Raun White into breakout Big 12 stars this fall.

    2. Who Has Next Along The D-Line?

    Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson has done a solid, even underrated, job in Morgantown the past couple of seasons. But he and his assistants will have their hands full this fall.

    Eight defensive starters from last year’s Russell Athletic Bowl loss to Miami are gone, including all three starting defensive linemen. The Mountaineers had problems generating consistent pressure last season, which could continue now that Noble Nwachukwu, Christian Brown and Darrien Howard are gone.

    Strongside defensive end Adam Shuler earned a lot of snaps as a redshirt freshman, so he ought to be ready for a promotion. After Shuler, though, the decline in experience is steep. Defensive tackle Jalen Harvey and end Ezekiel Rose are JUCO transfers who’ll get opportunities to play immediately.

    3. Retooling Cornerback

    The line and the pass rush are concerns. So, too, is the cornerback position, which means opposing quarterbacks will revel at the chance to face West Virginia in 2017.

    Three of the Neers’ top four corners have graduated, headlined by Douglas, who’s about to begin a promising career on Sundays. To survive in the high-scoring Big 12, a team must feature a consistent pass rush, a reliable secondary or, preferably, both.

    Senior Elijah Battle is the only returning cornerback with any appreciable experience, so he’ll be asked to take on a leadership role this month. Syracuse transfer Corey Winfield, who has two years of ACC starting experience, was an important addition, but he won’t be available until May.

    MORE: Big 12 Predictions, Storylines For 2017

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