I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into here, but I know when it started.
Not sure why, and not sure I even care, but I definitely saw freshman QB William Crest fielding punts to start practice.
— Mike Casazza (@mikecasazza) July 31, 2014
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.
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.”)