What do we make of William Crest?

I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into here, but I know when it started.

That, to me, is first-day-of-camp stuff. Maybe he won a bet. Maybe the coaches had a neat way of saying, “Welcome to college, Mr. High School All-American.” Maybe he asked Joe DeForest’s permission and, for a day, Joe said, “Yeah, sure, whatever.” Maybe it was Dana Holgorsen throwing the cameras a bone. Maybe it was, I don’t know, a drill to improve his hands because catching punts is like catching shotgun snaps.

You see my point. Whatever your choice, be it from that list or your own, we can agree it was nothing. It was a throwaway moment, the sort of thing you give 140 characters to and maybe mention in a vlog. And it’s important to remember that on the first day of camp, he was  just fielding punts, which is to say he was not returning punts.

Welp, this happened yesterday.

Two things:

1) That’s a punt return. He was handing the ball off in the Oklahoma drill and then he was with the quarterbacks in some warmup drills and, bam, he’s with the 2s on punt return.

2) I’m not sure I’d be excited about stepping in front of a galloping No. 16.

Actually, let’s make it three things, because 3) William Crest returning punts is a Thing now.

On the surface, this is a small thing. He’s not missing any valuable quarterback stuff when he’s pulled from throwing balls over pads and into a net so that he can go return a punt. I didn’t ask Dana on opening day about Crest returning punts because I really thought it was nothing and I thought I’d get a nothing answer, and I’d like to go more than three hours into the season before I fumble.

Dana’s press conference yesterday was before practice, and if the order had been reversed, I probably would have carried the ball like loaf of bread and asked the question. Because I’m curious.

Look, I don’t think he’s the punt returner. I don’t think he’s an option. I can think of a dozen names you could and probably should put out there before him. But this is still happening. So why in the heck is it happening?

Maybe we’re all being trolled. Maybe this is a way to let opponents know WVU has a dynamic freshman quarterback they’ve never seen on tape, so they best be wary (and if that’s so, I’m dropping propaganda leaflets all over Tuscaloosa right now).

I mean, what do we make of this drill for the media to film and disperse?

If this punt return thing is for fun, that’s an answer. If he lost a bet, that’s an answer. If it’s because they want to have him involved in practice and getting used to Division I speed, that’s a really good answer. If it’s because he could be the punt returner, or a backup, that’s an answer that makes my head spin.

See, this might be something as small as a paragraph in a notebook or something as big as a lead story on the sports page. I don’t know, so it has my attention, even though I can’t shake the feeling I know better.

Then again, you just can’t get past the idea Crest is something. You can’t get past what Dana Holgorsen had to say in yesterday’s press conference about using Crest in a package tailored to his strengths.

One gets the idea, though, that Crest is in WVU’s plans and perhaps sooner than later. Holgorsen has never rotated quarterbacks within a game and doesn’t even like discussing the idea. He’s long embraced his offense and eschewed ploys. He’s never seen the need to reroute practice time to a Wildcat package or even a subset of his standard Air Raid offense that features a big quarterback for short-yardage situations.

Holgorsen said Monday, only five days into this, he’d be open to adapting. WVU can’t and won’t call the same plays for Crest and Trickett right now because Holgorsen said it’s “a little bit too technical” at this stage.

“There’s a reason Johnny Manziel redshirted. There’s a reason Jameis Winston redshirted,” Holgorsen said. “Those are the latest two Heisman Trophy guys.”

Crest runs basic stuff. WVU sees success and builds on it, increasing the difficulty slowly over time rather than overwhelming Crest all at once. WVU will remember what he does well and work on the rest and he’ll be handed more as he proves he can handle more. If Holgorsen believes Crest can be trusted in a certain situation with a specific set of plays in a game, it will happen.

“I would like to do that if he continues to progress because I think he’s a pretty good player,” Holgorsen said. “But again, I don’t want to put too much on his plate. If that package doesn’t look very good, we won’t do it. If he improves over the next three weeks, if those specific things that he can do well, if he can do things better than Clint when Clint is in there, we’d be more than happy to do it.”

Forget punt returns, which are irrelevant when we arrive at this intersection. This is, or this could be, a significant shift. He does not like to rotate quarterbacks. You saw how the Paul Millard/Clint Trickett thing went down in the William & Mary game last season. The offense never got going under Millard, and Holgorsen, perhaps cautiously, perhaps out of need, only gave Trickett three snaps and one series. It did not fit.

Furthermore, Dana likes to spend his practice time on his offense. The Mountaineers install their stuff and repeat it. They put plays in and pull plays out every week and rehearse only the ones they believe will work against that week’s opponent. It’s easier to work on a few things and get good at them than it is to work on a few more things and get good at all of them.

Simple stuff, really.

And he’s never, as far as he’s told me, had room for a Wildcat or a Belldozer package. It takes away from his practice time for his offense and it gives a guy who took 15 or 20 percent of the snaps during the week the leading role in the offense while a perfectly healthy starter who took 80 or 85 percent of the snaps that week stands on the sideline.

It all runs counter to his mantra: Life’s hard. If you make it harder, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Now there are caveats here. The first is the biggest. Crest has to prove himself. Holgorsen can’t see him as a kid who even might get out on the field and panic, who might miss or misinterpret a signal, who might call a timeout and thus rob the offense of the advantage it installs when Crest enters the game … which then trashes the time Crest was given in practice. Remember, Trickett, a coach’s son who grew up on the sidelines and was sharp enough to graduate from Florida State in three years, needed a season, a winter and a spring to get that right.

And Crest has to pass Shannon Dawson’s evaluation, which won’t be easy. The offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach has to reprogram Crest’s brain before he can get  to the mechanics, and Dawson does see tiny glitches in the operation.

“His release is good, but it’s the actual (process) when the ball comes out,” Dawson said. “It’s more to do with really the back leg just getting a little bent, crumbling, and that elbow goes down and it looks a little sidearm.”

Let’s say Crest, who was here all summer and is one with his iPad, learns the offense and fits the throwing mold. There’s still one more obstacle. He has to do the things he does better than Trickett does them, and that presumes Crest is better than, or no worse than even with, Millard and Skyler Howard.

This is where the conversation evolves. Crest’s arm is stronger than Trickett’s. More accurate? I’m not ready to say that just yet. But Trickett is a safer bet, at present, when the snap hits his hands. He just knows more, which is natural and why this topic is more about what may soon happen as opposed to what will happen right now.

Crest is a better runner. He’s faster and more elusive, though I think Trickett is a little underrated in that capacity. He’s not Crest, but he’s not Millard, either. The difference is the size, which means durability. We know the staff’s concern with the 6-foot-2, 175-pound (!) Trickett taking hits. We know Crest is the same height and 35 pounds heavier (!), which isn’t a reason to play Crest over Trickett, but is a reason to give a few plays to Crest instead of Trickett.

Trickett is a better length-of-the-field, flow-of-the-game option who can access the entire offense. Maybe Crest is a solution to the problems WVU had scoring touchdowns from the red zone and just beyond, and that’s a place where an offense will access just a few plays, most of them based on how its seen defenses protect their end zone on film. Crest might have a zone read — which is give it, keep it or throw quick to the backside of the play — and just a few pass plays that have only a couple of reads and routes because it all happens so fast in a tight space.

Or maybe this is 1,500 words for naught. I can’t shake the feeling that  I ought to know better, but you can’t ignore the signs that WVU has something in mind for its freshman quarterback.

(Update: I talked to Someone over at the Puskar Center today, and we kept it off the record, but here’s he said about Crest, punt returns, specific packages, so on and so forth.

“It’s not a gimmick. He’s an athlete. Crest could play receiver really. He’s an athlete. He’s not a typical quarterback like people just think, ‘Oh, he’s a quarterback. He’s going to go in there and just play quarterback.’ He’s an athlete. Right now, they have faith and trust in Crest and you can tell that Crest is going to be the future. He has great potential. It’s just something he has to live up to. Putting him back there on punts just give him an opportunity to get another chance on the field.”)


28 Responses to “What do we make of William Crest?”

  1. Jim says:

    Has your dog been recruited by Tom Bradley?

  2. Sammy says:

    Great stuff. What this says to me is this: If Trickett gets banged up in the middle of the Maryland game and has to come out, we’re going to see Paul Millard trot out there and do his Paul Millard thing and Trickett will resume his position as starter.

    But if Oklahoma knocks bangs up Trickett’s shoulder and he’s out for five weeks or even if the team just starts 1-4 while Trickett looks very mediocre — both real possibilities — then I think the keys are getting handed to Crest. I think the package thing is just a way to get ready for that eventuality.

    I remember a couple of teams, maybe Louisville with Brian Brohm when he was a freshman, who used to bring in a freshman quarterback for a series or two a game. Not sure if that’s an option, either.

  3. anxiouseer97 says:

    Virginia Tech used to bring in their No. QB for a series or two each game – even when the starter was effective. I always thought that made some sense.

  4. Ccteam says:

    Signs point to being willing to burn Crest’s redshirt year which tells me they are at least considering using him enough to justify that. Maybe that is why he is also getting a special team look. If he proves capable he will get his chances, if he can’t handle the role or it proves ineffective in practice red shirt still available. They are scaling down the offense he has to learn to provide possible value.

  5. anxiouseer97 says:

    I would rather see Crest lined up at receiver rather than punt returner. Bad things happen on special teams.

  6. Mike Casazza says:

    Funny you should say that, aniouseer97. Check out the update at the bottom.

  7. Drew says:

    RELAX, there’s no way they would let him do an actual live punt return.


  8. Joe Manchin says:

    Crest will be great when Tom Bradley is named Head Coach next year.

  9. Brian says:

    What better way for Crest to get a grasp of the offense than to get out there and run routes himself? Line him up a few times throughout practices and let him wrap his head around things.

  10. JC says:

    Seems like HCDH is dying to pull the trigger on Crest….ride that horse as far as it’ll take you!

  11. Karl says:

    My immediate reaction to the punt returns is that the coaches don’t really see him as a QB. They see his potential as a football player and don’t want to lose him. They give him the reps at QB to keep him happy, so they can check the box that says they at least gave him a shot. Then comes the talk, the private meeting, when the coaches tell him how talented he is, how it would be a shame to keep someone with his ability off the field, and if you were willing to give up his position “for now” you could really, really help the team.

    Tavon went through something similar when he was persuaded to give up playing RB. I believe Bradley Starks was recruited as a QB, then repositioned after a similar pitch from Stew. Jeremy Johnson too, but he wasn’t buying what Stew was selling, and he bolted.

  12. Karl says:

    Maybe it’s also a reflection on how much they like Sills.

  13. Mike Casazza says:

    Dammit. You guys are never going to let me out of this rabbit hole.

  14. Dann White says:

    Interesting hint their Michael.
    I recalled that Major was spoonfed the offense back in 86, even at that we were 4 games into the 87 season before we began to see flashes of what was to come.
    I LOVE the preseason!!!


  15. Dann White says:

    Interesting hint their Michael – Freaking auto-correction!
    Interesting hint there Michael.

    I know, I know, no big deal. Just drives me nuts.

  16. BobbyHeenan says:

    OK, conspiracy theory time here.

    Crest is athletic, but in my opinion from what I’ve seen he’s not THAT athletic that he’s a can’t miss WR/punt returner.

    Dana’s seat is a little warm. A 1-3 and/or 2-5 and/or 2-7 starts are very real possibilities, and the heat gets turned up. At 2-7 if Crest has already been on the field being an “athlete,” you obviously go ahead and start him at QB the rest of the way to get him some reps. I think most people would agree with this. If he shows glimmers of hope Dana’s seat cools off, even if we continue to lose.

    However, if you sit him on the bench and keep that redshirt then at 2-5 or 2-7 you’ve got two very different, yet completely reasonable camps that can say keep the redshirt on him or pull it and get some snaps in. For a 2-7 coach, there’s no right answer here and you’re second guessed no matter what you do.

    Am I crazy for thinking about it this way? Are we fishing/stretching for reasons to just go ahead and pull the redshirt so it makes the staff’s decision down the road a little easier?

  17. DanInNJ says:

    Can’t explain the punt return thing, but I’m still having a real hard time believing that Crest would be a viable option as the starter as long as Trickett is healthy and if we have a productive running game then Millard can run the offense efficiently. I just don’t see it…….Geno Smith was known for spending copious amounts of time watching film but it took him pretty much all of his junior year to get settled into Dana’s offense.

    The only viable explanation is that special package where Crest comes in running set plays like the read option just to keep the defense off-balance. I’m not a fan of the duel QB thing, however……I still have flashbacks of Jake Kelchner getting hot and then Nehlen inexplicably puttting Studstill in for a series.

  18. Mr M says:

    I seem to recall Nehlen, after witnessing several seasons of someone (TECH?) utilizing some starters on special teams, decided there’s something to having “your best athletes” on the field as much as possible. I suppose he meant within reason. Also, could one of those “packages” include a (long) lateral from a punt return? I suspect Crest has the appealing combination of speed, agility, and arm/hands they just want to check him out.

  19. stephen304 says:

    If WVU is 2-2 or better with Trickett he stays with Crest getting 10-15 plays depending on the game situations. If WVU stays 500 or better. If they fall 2 games below 500 give the reins to Crest. I do think WVU cam split the first 10 games. The Mountaineers had a green team last year and blew 4th qtr leads in too many games. 14 returning starters and new quality depth will hold on to several of those ….

    8-5 and the Champs Bowl!

  20. stephen304 says:

    @DaninNJ….I Remember Studstill making a lot of plays and scoring 2 TDs in the last 2 minutes at Boston College. It worked more times than it didn’t can’t argue with 11-0

  21. Down South says:

    I’m going to make a bold prediction. William Crest isn’t going to return a punt this season. I can see the wisdom of burning the redshirt to get Crest some game experience. And I can see the wisdom of keeping the redshirt. I think in year 7 he gets redshirted every time, but our quarterback depth is not deep. My guess is that Crest

  22. Down South says:

    Plays early and frequently due in the season. Give him a head start on next season when we are gonna need some game experience.

  23. DanInNJ says:

    stephen304 – Yeah, I remember that well. I was thinking more of the 1992 season when it seemed that the fan base was split over the idea of playing two QB’s. Just when either one of them would start moving the ball Nehlen would make the switch and leave people in the stands confounded at why Nehlen did it.
    In my opinion this could work if it’s limited (as in specific situations) but I can also see Crest moving the ball and getting first downs after a few faltering series and having people wanting him to stay in the game. It can be a recipe for discontent amongst the fan base as well as in the locker room. Even the coach of the Jets has already written off the idea of having 2 QBs who will play given Vick’s mobility because it didn’t work well with Tebow back in 2012 and it worked against the other QB’s confidence.

  24. Drew says:

    Don’t forget the beginning of the 1994 season when Nehlen went back and forth with Chad Johnston and Eric Boykin.

    Speaking of 1994…I hope this 2014 Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game doesn’t turn out similarly to the 1994 Kickoff Classic. That game was the epitome of dominance. Nebraska racked up rushing yards at will with Frazier and Phillips while holding WVU to 8 yards on the ground and 89 yards of total offense. The only bright spot was a record setting punt. Was O’Toole’s media day appearance a bit of foreshadowing?

    I’m certainly feeling the double meaning of waiting for the fall this year.

  25. overtheSEC says:

    I can’t see Crest being a punt returner, but it does seem that returning punts would be good practice for field vision–finding holes, making moves. Perhaps the punt returning is a way get some of those reps without taking a lot of offensive snaps to practice. Putting Crest in on short yardage/red zone situations even with a limited playbook but giving him a 3rd or 4th read to run (more like Manziel, than zone read like Pat) could be an added wrinkle. Getting those punt return reps should give him encouragement in finding daylight.

  26. stephen304 says:

    The 94 Nebraska game was a slaughter. It would have been a better showing by WVU if they played in 93 . WVU had cycled through every skill player from the undefeated 93 team and it was year 1 of the Don Nehlen 5 year rebuilding plan.
    The Nehlen 5 year plan….

    The first 2 years would be rough 4 or 5 wins but everyone that had any promise got redshirted . Year 3 Nehlen would coach up the 2 stars into 3+ stars and year 3 wvu would win 7 or 8 years 4&5 WVU would be serious contenders.

    If Nehlen had the players Rich rod, Holgerson, and Doc Holiday recruited for Bill Stewart… Nehlen would have won several championships.

    Ford Childress really set back holgerson last year. WVU should be going into the season with a 4 star QB with 3 spring and 2 fall camps and a season of experience and 3 years of eligibility to allow Crest to develop but he lacked the maturity and fortitude to be a div 1 QB.

  27. stephen304 says:

    One thing I do remember about the Nebraska game the announcers talking about how the best pro prospect on the field for either team was Todd Saurebraun the WVU punter.

    He was an a$$ he rooted against the offense so he would get to punt and show off his leg. He got drafted in the 2nd or 3rd round totally unheard of for a punter

  28. Bubba Bmore says:

    Crest is a qb and came to WV to play qb. The kid deserves a shot to play qb, and I hope he and his family were not lied too.