WHEELING - Another season, another challenge for senior quarterback Paul Millard.
"We are still doing our installation stuff each and every day," Millard said during Saturday's practice at Wheeling Island Stadium. "Right now, we are just repeating those plays and perfecting them. We struggled a bit today, but we are going to get better."
Millard, who was locked in a two-way battle with Florida State transfer Clint Trickett last spring, finds himself having to once again prove that he is the best option when the Mountaineers take on Alabama to open the 2014 campaign.
Running backs coach Ja'Juan Seider goes over a drill with Wendell Small (4), Andrew Buie (13) and Cameron Nash (38) during West Virginia Unniversity’s football practice at Wheeling Island Stadium on Saturday.
"Last year, I had a good grasp of things," said the senior, who completed 93-of-168 attempts for 1,122 yards and six touchdowns, but also tossed six interceptions. "You're always changing things and mixing things up. I'm still learning, but I have experience so when I get out there I need to get guys to rally behind me."
Right now, however, that may be a tad more difficult as junior college transfer Skyler Howard is receiving the lion's share of snaps with the first unit.
"With Skyler Howard taking reps with the first team, it's very similar to what we did when we brought Clint Trickett in last fall," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson explained. "He was the furthest behind so he got 50 percent of the reps to speed him up.
"We have to get him to a level playing field mentally. Right now, he isn't because he is still processing things. You can't play instinctively when you're trying to figure out signals. We are trying to give him slightly more reps in order to curb that learning process."
Words that were echoed when it came to University of Pittsburgh transfer running back Rushel Shell.
"With Rushel it's similar, he has good days and bad days," said Dawson. "All in all he's shown signs of being a really good player, he just needs to learn the system. He's a little hesitant at times too because he's not understanding everything.
"The communication is not there which is frustrating, but the only way to curb that is for them to grow and get those reps."
Making that more difficult is a backfield loaded with challengers such as junior college transfer Dreamius Smith, who finished with nearly 500 yards of rushing and five touchdowns during his first season in the old gold and blue, sophomore Wendell Smallwood, junior Dustin Garrison, senior Maurice Zereoue, freshman Cameron Nash and junior Andrew Buie.
Buie, who sat out last season, led the Mountaineers in rushing with 851 yards and seven touchdowns as WVU finished 7-6 with a loss to Syracuse in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl in 2012.
Both newcomers had their moments - good and bad - on Saturday leaving Dawson and head coach Dana Holgorsen searching for answers.
"I don't know if I'm really happy about it (practice)," said Dawson. "You don't really know until you watch the film to see how you did.
"Obviously, we are far from where we need to be. I thought it was an average performance. We ran the ball well at times and put the ball in play a few times. But, today was a red zone practice and you can't have three turnovers in the red zone, we need to punch it in there."
Something both Howard, who completed 219-of-325 passes for 3,151 yards and 33 touchdowns at Riverside City College last fall, and Shell did on a regular basis at their previous stops.
"Skyler does some things well," said the head coach. "He also struggles with some things as well. Naturally, he does a great job of extending the play, which was a problem we had last year at the quarterback spot.
"Rushel has done a good job. He's trying to grasp the offense and what he's doing. Once we get these guys to the point where they aren't thinking about what they are doing, that's when they'll be good."
Mountaineer fans around the country are hoping that process happens before WVU takes the field on Aug. 30 to open the season against the Crimson Tide in the Chick-fil-A Classic in the Georgia Dome