The one thing West Virginia coach Bill Stewart learned about spring practice for certain was the one thing he knew for certain -- running back Noel Devine is ready to spring a big year on the Big East.
What he didn't learn was whether or not his starting quarterback, Geno Smith, will be all they expect him to be as he missed all but the skeleton passing drills -- in which he was crisp and sharp -- due to a broken foot suffered before spring practice.
Devine, who took control of the ground game in a spring game that featured a stable of strong, fleet running backs, rushed for more than 1,400 yards last year, then stunned everyone by staying for his senior year, saying he was dedicated to winning a championship at West Virginia.
He spent the spring proving it. In the spring game he ran for 73 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.
"Looked to me like he was a man on a mission," Stewart said. "That cat gave great, great, great effort. He was having fun, he was a leader. I thought he played really, really good and hard. That was the key, he played hard."
Devine was playing hard at a time when many senior are hardly playing, which might give some clue as to the attitude he'll bring into next season.
The most improved player of the spring was Pat White's younger brother, Coley, who came expecting to spend his last spring at quarterback, only to improve his passing dramatically and throw three TDs in the spring game, good enough that Stewart is now thinking of using him next season as a "slash", at both slot receiver and as a quarterback to run Wildcat plays.
"I liked the way Coley White stepped up and made plays with our offense," Stewart said. "He's been written off and talked off, and he's probably been told that he's not going to be the guy. A lot of people said that, but I told him this week that we would move him to slot if he still wishes, but I want to keep your hand in the quarterback position. I don't know what these two freshmen coming in can do. I hope Geno (Smith) is healthy, but if not, we'll go with White and (former quarterback turned wide receiver Bradley) Starks."
The defense, which is deep and experienced, had a strong spring, which could make WVU one of the favorites in the Big East next season.NOTES, QUOTES
--QB Coley White -- The brother of WVU great Patrick White had been a flop as a quarterback during his career and had asked to move to wide receiver this year, but the injury to QB Geno Smith forced him to stay at QB and he improved markedly as a thrower, leading WVU to think about putting some stuff in for him in the fall.
--MLB Branko Busick -- A redshirt freshman out of Steubenville, Ohio, Busick is a hard-hitting kid who has a nose for the ball and could, by the start of the season, be a starter in the middle if he can learn the defense a little better.
--WR Tavon Austin -- A fast, elusive runner who is earmarked to replace RB Noel Devine at the end of his career, Austin showed game-breaking abilities on the outside and will probably be used as a wide out rather than slot, which was where he played last year as a true freshman.
--RB Noel Devine -- His skills are well known as he comes into the season one of the nation's top running backs, but as a senior Devine took over leadership of the offense.
--TE Tyler Urban -- WVU seems ready to incorporate the tight end into its passing game and Urban, along with H-back Will Johnson -- showed an ability to catch the ball as QB Geno Smith found them over and over.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We now have to jell as a football team, family and program. That's where we started tonight. That was good to see." -- WVU Coach Bill Stewart after a successful spring football game ended spring practice.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: WVU goes into the season as one of the favored teams in the Big East but it also has a number of question marks.
Geno Smith takes over at quarterback for Jarrett Brown and was limited to working just skeleton drills during the spring due a broken foot. He showed a great arm and ability to read defenses, but was never under pressure from oncoming defenders.
And there's a chance he faces such pressure with a questionable offensive line that really has not performed well in a few years.
Defensively the Mountaineers figure to be strong from the start. S Robert Sands is a contender for Big East Defensive Player of the Year.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: This is likely to be a big-play offense with new QB Geno Smith throwing to three talented wide receivers in Bradley Starks, Tavon Austin and leading receiver Jock Sanders. In addition, he has a couple of tight ends who can catch in Tyler Urban and Will Johnson and there's a chance to see more of RB Noel Devine and his explosiveness in the passing game. Don't be surprised if he catches 50 passes. Devine offers breakaway skills at tailback and he has a big-time inside runner to complement him in FB Ryan Clarke. How the offense line develops is the key.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: WVU is strong up the middle. NG Chris Neild is the anchor of an experienced defensive line that also includes senior Scooter Berry. S Robert Sands may be the best defensive player in the Big East and hard-hitting Sidney Glover is also a presence at safety. Middle linebacker Pat Lazear has grown as a player and has a comer behind him in redshirt freshman Branko Busick. J.T. Thomas is an all-league outside 'backer who seems ready to be introduced to America during his senior season.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: This aspect of the game has been troublesome for WVU in the past, especially kickoff-return coverage, which has been among the worst. There has been a change in coaching responsibilities with new tight end coach Dave McMichael taking over here. The kicking game may be handled by three different players -- PK Tyler Bettancurt, the hero of the Pitt victory; P Greg Pugnetti and KO man Corey Smith, an Alabama transfer who will back up the other two spots. The Mountaineers have dangerous return men in Jock Sanders and Tavon Austin on kickoffs and Brandon Hogan on punts.
QB Barry Brunetti -- One of the top rated dual-threat quarterbacks to come out of high school this year and a Parade All-American, Brunetti will get a chance to battle for playing time. He actually may not be at a huge disadvantage, as expected starter Geno Smith will be limited this spring with an injury. Brunetti ho finished his prep career at Memphis University School with 3,882 yards passing yards and 43 touchdowns passes while also rushing for 1,660 yards and 39 touchdowns. He has not lost a football game since seventh grade.
OL Quinton Spain -- West Virginia is looking for help on the offensive line and the 6-6, 330-pound Spain can be a big contributor in more ways than one. An offensive guard from Petersburg High in Virginia, he could provide depth even as a freshman to an offensive line that had no depth last year.
"I saw him play basketball and he scored 30, was acrobatic and had a soft jump shot," coach Bill Stewart said.
WR Ivan McCartney -- He should move along faster than many recruits because he was a high school teammate in Miramar, Fla., of starting quarterback Geno Smith. He was in the Sporting News Top 35 after finishing with 37 catches for 747 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior while returning 16 punts for 625 yards. He's expected to offer much of the same kind of stuff that Tavon Austin brings to the table.
--QB Geno Smith, projected as this year's starter, was limited in his participation his spring by a broken foot. Smith was able to do all skeleton drills but anything that required hitting or running he was held out of. He did show an exceptional arm.
--CB Brandon Hogan opened spring running the stadium steps through the first week because it was judged he wasn't in shape, then spent most of the second week out of practice as he addressed academic issues. He did practice the final couple of week and as a veteran, that is all he would need.
--RB Noel Devine put a scare into everyone when he suffered a leg injury in the middle of the spring, but it turned out to be nothing more than a thigh bruise. He returned to practice after missing a few days.
--DT Scooter Berry, a senior, missed all of spring as he recovered from a shoulder injury. He is expected back in the fall.
--WR Bradley Starks had limited participation in the spring due to an ankle injury suffered playing basketball. He is expected back at full speed in the fall.
--WRs Deon Long and Logan Heatsie, both expected to be big contributors in their first year, asked for and were granted releases and will transfer. Long was a prep school star last year and Heatsie a redshirt after being a high school star in Virginia.
Previous Report: 04/28/2010