WVU's first day in partial pads (shells) also marked the third and final day of the initial installation of the new offensive system, and Mountaineer offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen admitted that a number of mistakes were apparent as phase one drew to a close. However, he was also happy with the enthusiasm he saw, which was also echoed by the coaching staff.
"The thing I like more than anything is the tempo and the effort that these guys are playing with. You can't really tell until you get them out here and actually play, but for the most part the effort has been really good and they're a lot of tough guys. The [quarterbacks] stare a hole through me sometimes, because they don't get it, and that's what they are supposed to do. If they get it they turn, and if they don't get it they stare at me, and that bothers me at times. "
Holgorsen, who watches each play from an angle behind the offense, was a bit more animated during Saturday's practice than he was the first two days, but didn't have any volcanic explosions. He understands the teaching is just beginning, and big displays of emotion aren't going to help in the early stages of the teaching process. Still, he also has a limit to his patience.
"We aren't going to get mad about mistakes," Holgorsen said. "We're going to get mad if effort is bad. As the spring goes and and we make the same mistakes, that's when you'd see me get angry."
Although he hasn't faced snow before, Holgorsen noted that the late snow shower isn't the only weather interruption he has seen during spring drills. Hail and wind storms in Texas created issues for practices at Texas Tech.
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Running back Daquan Hargrett continues to impress. He is running the ball with the most authority of anyone in the early going, and is showing a good burst through the line. He also catches the ball on screen and swing passes well, and uses blockers effectively before making a solid cut and getting upfield. Full contact with tackling included may tell a different tale, but for now Hargrett has been the most consistent of all the backs. Trey Johnson and freshman Vernard Roberts have also had some good showings out of the backfield.
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The defensive line had a very dominant stretch during a brief one-on-one drill during Saturday's practice. For a stretch of about ten reps, defensive linemen defeated their opponents and got to a tackling dummy which stands in for the quarterback. Bruce Irvin unveiled an improved bull rush that sent a pair of opponents back into the QB, and Julian Miller, Jorge Wright, Josh Taylor and J.B. Lageman all had wins during the impressive streak.
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In full 11-on-11 work, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Ryan Nehlen all had long pass receptions as the offense worked on first-, second- and third-down plays. Tyler Urban was again a standout target for Geno Smith, and J.D. Woods also had a pair of nice catches along the sideline. While there was a great deal of hype the past couple of days about a possible 100-catch receiver in the WVU offense, it's just as likely that this unit might produce three or four players with 50 catches. With the focus on developing as many as eight receivers with the ability to play, it might not be a stretch to see Austin, Urban, Bailey, and Bradly Starks put up those sorts of numbers. As receivers coach Shannon Dawson has noted repeatedly, "the ball with find the playmakers".
Making full judgments about the offense versus the defense can be misleading at this point, as each side is concentrating on installing their systems and teaching. While the offense is putting in its new scheme, focus on the defensive side is on bringing along a host of newcomers and backups who may play vital roles this year. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel indicated that his defense isn't gearing up to stop the offense during the spring – it's simply trying to start from the beginning and learn all of the basics of his system.
That said, the defense has had its moments as well. Josh Francis is a physical player at linebacker that should make his presence felt early, and Vance Roberts, twin of Vernard, is also a physical, take-no-prisoners type at cornerback, although he's still working to learn the coverages in the defense. The defensive line also got better pressure on the quarterbacks during 11-on-11 drills, batting down a pair of passes and forcing the quarterbacks to relocate in the pocket on several other occasions.
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Experimentation and shuffling continues up and down the lineup on both sides of the ball. On Saturday, Tyler Anderson, Najee Goode and Branko Busick formed the "first team" linebacking trio, after Francis and Casey Vance had time in those roles on Friday. More mixing and matching occurred in the secondary, making any attempts to put together a depth chart at this point an exercise in frustration. With games still five months away, that's not a priority at this point, of course.
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Specialists continue to to do work mostly on their own, with no special teams periods being conducted in public view during the first week. Punters Corey Smith and Michael Molinari did spend part of Saturday's practice kicking into the nets that surround the indoor facility field.
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Linebacker Doug Rigg has been hampered with a leg problem, but did return to a blue jersey for Saturday's scrimmage.
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Practices continue next week on Wednesday in full pads – the first such session of the spring.