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West Virginia seemed to be in the news every day through December and January because of Rich Rodriguez's departure to Michigan and the controversy that followed. Two months after the unlikely Fiesta Bowl rout of Oklahoma, West Virginia begins spring practice. The Mountaineers should still have an explosive ground game, but there's work to be done on defense. Here's a look at the Mountaineers as they begin spring ball.
Noel Devine appears ready to carry the load at running back.
Defense?4: S Quinton Andrews, T Scooter Berry, LB Mortty Ivy, LB Reed Williams.
Offense?6: C Mike Dent, G Jake Figner, WR Tito Gonzales, G Greg Isdaner, T Ryan Stanchek, QB Pat White.
Special teams?1: K/P Pat McAfee
CB Brantwon Bowser (junior college transfer), DE Larry Ford (junior college transfer).
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
White returns at quarterback after consecutive 1,500-yard passing and 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He remained a breakaway threat as a runner but improved his completion percentage and decreased his interception total from 2006 to 2007. Backup Jarrett Brown has plenty of experience. White and running back Noel Devine will have the luxury of running behind an experienced offensive line. All-conference performers Stanchek and Isdaner are among the returnees.
HELP IS NEEDED
The Mountaineers lost most of their top contributors from last season's defense, which led the Big East against the run and in points per game. Berry was a Rivals.com Freshman All-American, but the defensive line lost its two other starters. One spring focus will be developing depth at tailback. And don't underestimate the loss of fullback Owen Schmitt.
KEEP AN EYE ON
DE Julian Miller: The Mountaineers play only one true defensive end in their 3-3-5 scheme. Miller, a redshirt freshman[/db], is one of only two ends on scholarship for the spring.
WR Jock Sanders: Sanders, who is 5 feet 8, saw time as a slot receiver and a runner as a freshman in 2007. With Darius Reynaud gone, West Virginia will look for new targets in the passing game. If the Mountaineers can't find depth behind Devine, Sanders could provide a running threat.
S Franchot Allen: In addition to having a cool nickname (Boogie), Allen ? whose brother is NFL SS Guss Scott ? will compete for a starting spot at safety.
HIS TIME IS NOW
S Quinton Andrews has started 20 games in the past two seasons, but has struggled with consistency. As the only returning starter in the secondary, Andrews ? a big hitter ? now is the veteran of the group. West Virginia needs him to grow up in 2008.
After a tumultuous offseason, West Virginia will try to continue what Rich Rodriguez started. The old schemes will stay under Bill Stewart and the new coaching staff, but the same results are no guarantee under a new coach.
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.