By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The first full week of spring practice is underway in Morgantown, as the West Virginia football team begins the task of rebounding from a disappointing 7-6 record in 2012.
Among those who must step up for the Mountaineers is junior Paul Millard, who is battling with redshirt freshman Ford Childress to fill the huge shoes of Geno Smith at quarterback.
“It is going well so far,” said Millard, in comments provided by the WVU sports information office. “We are five days in, and it has been a grind. We have a lot of new guys out there, a lot of new bodies and a lot of new faces, and it has been a lot of fun just getting out there and practicing with the guys and getting better each and every day.”
Millard has been satisfied with the way West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen has let the duo work to earn the job.
“They are letting Ford and I go at it right now,” Millard said. “We are taking half and half with the reps, so it is all 50-50 right now, and we are just going out and trying to get better each and every day.”
Getting better is the task ahead for the Mountaineers, who started 5-0 in their first season in the Big 12, but won just twice more, finishing with a loss to Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl.
While the offense wasn’t the issue last season, the defense was ranked among the nation’s worst, allowing 38.1 points and nearly 473 yards a game.
“Our defense as a total was eighth in the Big 12. I thought we were 10th with the way we played,” West Virginia senior defensive lineman Shaq Rowell. “It was discouraging to see how we played last year. This year we are just working hard and training hard for spring ball, and we are just looking forward to better things this year.”
Holgorsen has made several personnel changes on the coaching staff in an attempt to improve the defense, led by the promotion of Keith Patterson to coordinator prior to the Pinstripe Bowl.
“With Coach Patterson, we got to touch on it during the bowl game,” West Virginia defensive back Brodrick Jenkins said. “He gave us an insight of what it is going to be and what we have to look forward to.
“Now that we have seen it, he is just an old-fashioned coach that wants you to run to the ball and give a complete effort and everything else will take care of itself.”
West Virginia will open its season on Aug. 31 by hosting FCS foe William & Mary. The Mountaineers know there is plenty of work to do before then.
“It has been a good process,” West Virginia defensive back Darwin Cook said. “We are just taking it slow right now so everybody can get up to speed on it. We are just making it more simple and playing fast.”
West Virginia will conclude its 15 days of spring practice with the Gold-Blue game on April 20 at Milan-Puskar Stadium.
•Virginia Tech begins spring practice on March 27, with the Maroon and White game also slated for April 20. The Hokies play two-time defending national champion Alabama in Atlanta on Aug. 31.
•Marshall begins fall drills on March 26. The Green and White game is slated for April 27. The Herd opens the season by hosting Miami (Ohio) on Aug. 31.
•Virginia began spring practice on March 18, and will conclude with the Orange-Blue game on April 6. The Cavaliers will welcome Brigham Young to Charlottesville on Aug. 31, followed a week later by Oregon.
•Concord and Bluefield will also be involved in spring football.
The Mountain Lions, who will open the season on Sept. 7 at Lenoir-Rhyne, will host its Maroon and Gray game on May 4.
Bluefield hasn’t released its schedule for the 2013 season.
—Contact Brian Woodson