Spring Practice Notebook: Day 2

On only the second day of a spring practice period that will apparently be defined by results of competitive drills that pit West Virginia's offensive and defensive players directly against each other, players on both sides of the line of scrimmage had reason to hold their heads high after making some highlight-reel plays.

  • Again, almost the entire portion of practice reporters were allowed to watch was devoted to competitive, offense-versus-defense "live action" drills.

    As we strolled onto the playing surface of Mountaineer Field just before 5:30 p.m., a modified 7-on-7 drill was underway, with a trio of managers holding large pads high up in the air in the area where the defensive line would be, forcing quarterbacks to throw around the simulated defenders.

    It wasn't clear how long that particular set-up had been in effect before reporters arrived, but shortly after, it ended. The offensive and defensive lines joined the action (they had been working against each other in the open area between the south end zone and the Milan Puskar Center) and went to work -- even though players were again, per NCAA rules, not in full pads.

  • Both sides had plays to add to their respective highlight reels once practice moved to 11-on-11 work.

    For the offense, receivers Tavon Austin and Tyler Urban both impressed again.

    Urban was less frequently targeted by WVU quarterbacks than he was on Wednesday, but he still ran solid routes and made a nice play to scoop up a low throw from Brian Athey without diving to the ground, keeping his feet to give himself the chance to add yards after the catch.

    Austin put his impressive burst on display several times, as the junior caught several short and intermediate passes and got upfield quickly.

    Because players were not in pads, there were no true tackle attempts -- defenders essentially served as "pursuers" and plays were whistled dead as they approached ball-carriers -- it was tough to gauge how far the receptions would have gone for, but suffice to say Austin showed off his ability to play in space.

    But there was one play where freshman quarterback Paul Millard found Austin downfield for what would have easily been a gain of 30 yards, and could have been more had the receiver had the chance to make people miss after the catch.

    Nearer to the wide edge of the field, Ivan McCartney also got in on the act, making catches from all three quarterbacks (Athey, Millard and presumptive starter Geno Smith). The Miramar, Fla., native had multiple catches near the sideline that were good for gains of more than 20 yards.

  • Defensively, Mountaineer newcomer and junior college transfer Josh Francis made his first big play as a Division I linebacker, reading Athey's eyes on one play and positioning himself perfectly for an easy interception.

    Had the play been truly "live action," Francis would have had plenty of room to run on a long return. As things stood, play was whistled dead after he moved about 20 yards toward the end zone after picking the ball off near the defense's 40-yard line.

    Fellow linebacker Branko Busick had his chance for an interception as well, easily getting both hands on a pass early in the drill. But somehow, the ball fell to the turf, leaving the soon-to-be redshirt sophomore frustrated -- and an easy target for his teammates, who wasted little time chiding him for the mistake.

  • Tempo has been a subject of considerable discussion since Dana Holgorsen was hired as the Mountaineers' offensive coordinator and head coach in waiting, and the first signs of the new staff's emphasis on fast play were witnessed Friday.

    Though the majority of snaps were taken at a moderate pace, there were about four or five occasions where the offense went into overdrive. Both first-teamers and those further down the depth chart had a chance to show their ability to quickly process a play call, get lined up and start the play, hoping to catch the blue-clad defense off guard.

    There seemed to be no obvious issues of confusion on either side of things. Offensive players all reacted to the increased speed admirably, but their counterparts on defense weren't caught napping, either.

    Communication on both sides was key, as the volume level during those "quick change" situations rose considerably. Members of the secondary could be heard calling out coverage schemes, while offensive linemen quickly tried to discern who was responsible for blocking which position.

    As a result, there were no significant plays for either side as a result of the tempo change. However, defensive lineman Bruce Irvin, eager as ever to rush the quarterback, did jump offside in his zeal on one of those plays.

  • In general, the Holgorsen offense's roots in the Bill Walsh-era "West Coast" attack was on full display Friday.

    Defenders had a hard time dealing with short and intermediate routes, as quarterbacks had many options to throw to for steady gains. Few passes so much as fell incomplete, and there were no obvious "negative" yardage plays.

    There were a few longer pass attempts thrown in for good measure, but the majority of the passing plays resulted in moderate gains.

  • As it did on Wednesday, WVU finished practice with what it is calling a "ball security/turnover circuit." Offensive players rotated among three different stations with various position coaches, working on the finer points of locking the ball away mid-run and after the catch.

    Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the field, defenders worked on techniques to strip the ball and otherwise generate turnovers.

  • West Virginia's third spring practice period is to be held Saturday afternoon. Players will be in shells for the first time.

    Be sure to check back with BlueGoldNews.com this weekend for more from Friday's practice, including interviews with several players, as well as full coverage of Saturday's session.

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