MORGANTOWN West Virginia University football coach Dana Holgorsen knows there are high expectations for the 2012 season from the team's supporters and from the national media after his Mountaineers thrashed Clemson 70-33 in a record-setting Orange Bowl performance.
But that's all right, the coach admits, because the team is of a high morale and anxious to get to work when spring practice kicks off Sunday afternoon.
"The guys are anxious to get coached," he said during Monday's luncheon to introduce the new defensive coaching staff. "The better we get, the faster we can go."
Photo by Brent Kepner
West Virginia University football coach Dana Holgorsen and quarterback Geno Smith celebrate after winning the Orange Bowl in January. The Mountaineers begin spring practice on Sunday.
The defense will be facing nearly the same situation as its offensive counterparts were a year ago, that being a new scheme and a new coaching staff. Gone will be the 3-3-5 defense in place of a 3-4 defense that will be able to morph into a 4-3 alignment.
"The coverages will be relatively similar," Holgorsen said. "How they are coached is going to be different."
"We have players on defense to allow us to push the envelope," said defensive assistant Daron Roberts, who crosses the line of scrimmage to tutor the defensive backs after spending last season with the offensive receivers.
"The defensive staff is on the same page," he said. "We want to play fast and aggressive. That will be a big emphasis, that and to create turnovers."
Holgorsen said those defensive players will have the opportunity to start fresh on Sunday.
"Everybody's slate has been wiped clean," he said. "They can go out and show the new (coaches) what they can do."
Joe DeForest will be the Mountaineers' defensive coordinator, arriving just after the start of the new semester from Oklahoma State. The staff he and Holgorsen have compiled has a definite Big 12 Conference flavor to it. Which is an advantage as the team will be moving to that conference this fall.
"I'm really excited about what he brings to the table," Holgorsen said of the coach who spent more than a decade in the Big 12. "He understands the style of ball we will be playing."
Erik Slaughter will be in charge of the defensive line, coming over from Stephen F. Austin Keith Patterson arrives in Morgantown from Pitt, and he will serve as the co-coordinator and coach the linebackers.
"Where the game has changed is you have to make plays in (open) space," Patterson said. "Tackling will be something I place a lot of emphasis on. Tackling is becoming more open-field oriented."
The lone holdover from last year's defensive staff is Steve Dunlap, who will serve as the special teams coach. Dunlap has the luxury of having an All-America return guy, Tavon Austin, returning for another season.
"Tavon is probably one of the most explosive players in the country," Dunlap said. "I sit in the press box and just shake my head. He's so hard to hit. He's so quick and elusive, and he's pretty durable."
The offensive unit returns nine starters, and Holgorsen said this spring will focus more on getting the players better at running the scheme.
"Things will make a whole lot more sense now," the coach said. "We will be getting our starters a year better at what they are doing.
"For us to get better, we have to get better in situations," he continued. "We are going to make plays, and we are going to get yardage. But last year, we weren't very good at third (down) and 2."
The offense will again be led by quarterback and Orange Bowl MVP Geno Smith, who is already being mentioned as a possible Heisman Trophy hopeful.
"We're not going to talk about Heisman potential," Holgorsen said. "We're not going to do any campaigning. It will be all about what he does on the field."
Spring practice will culminate with the annual Gold-Blue Spring Game on Saturday, April 21. A time for the game has not been announced. Admission will be $10, and a portion of the proceeds will benefit West Virginia University Children's Hospital.