Spring Practice Notebook: Day 4

After a three-day hiatus, the West Virginia football team got back to work in spring practice, spending its first day in full pads Wednesday morning -- and the already-competitive tenor of drills was further raised as physical play became the rule of the day.

  • Tyler Urban continues to be the biggest standout of the spring, as the converted inside receiver made multiple catches across the middle of the field, much as he had in the first three sessions as well.

    But just as observers started to wonder if Urban would solely be a threat between the hashes, the former tight end was used on a play that was typically more suited to smaller, quicker players like Jock Sanders and Tavon Austin in recent years.

    Indeed, the bubble screen made an appearance -- and, surprisingly, it was Urban on the receiving end of Geno Smith's pass. His fellow receivers did a solid job of blocking on the play, and Urban showed a bit of power, finishing his run after the catch by lowering his shoulder, powering through the tackler and falling forward for an extra yard or two on what was about an 8-yard gain.

  • On both sides of the ball, wholesale substitutions have been the name of the game, mixing and matching personnel groupings with one or two changes to put players in positions to show their skills with different teammates around them.

    Offensively, this tactic has been used often to give quarterbacks Paul Millard and Brian Athey a chance to rep with what would otherwise be the first-team offense at this point. Wednesday was probably the roughest day so far for the two freshmen at that position. That's not to say that either made egregious errors, but both struggled to make plays.

    That was evident on one play, when the offense, with Millard in at quarterback, looked completely disjointed on one play. Defensive lineman Bruce Irvin pressured Millard, forcing the young quarterback to roll out, and receivers failed to make appropriate adjustments, leading to a near sack and a throw-away.

    That caused offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, who has largely been quiet in the times media has gotten to watch practice, to declare to nobody in particular, "That is so bad."

  • Athey did not take many reps during the 25 minutes or so of "live" football media members got to watch toward the end of practice. That coincided with a few more snaps for starting quarterback Geno Smith, who had his moments of glory Wednesday.

    He tossed a touchdown pass of about 67 yards to Brad Starks on what was a simple "go" route from the outside receiver. Starks put a quick move on cornerback Ishmael Banks and got a bit of separation from the defender. Smith placed the ball perfectly, allowing Starks to catch it in stride and run in for the score.

  • That was the first salvo of a bit of a personal battle between Starks and Banks. A few plays later, the receiver complained of Banks holding his face mask while trying to run a route -- a charge Banks feigned ignorance to.

    Regardless, Starks found his own way to get a bit of revenge. On a later running play, Starks acted as though he was running a pass route, then straightened up and charged out into Banks, knocking the cornerback on his rear end with a rare "pancake" block for a receiver.

    "That's what you get," Starks said to Banks, as he turned around and headed back towards the sideline.

  • Much of the focus of the first few days has rightly been paid to Irvin, the defensive lineman who head coach Bill Stewart said "still hasn't been blocked" by anyone, as of Wednesday.

    Again, Irvin had at least two plays in the short period of time reporters were allowed to watch practice that would have been sacks had defenders been permitted to hit quarterbacks.

    But Julian Miller showed he is no slouch coming off the other end of the line as well, schooling offensive tackle Quinton Spain on one play, faking a move to the inside before turning back outside and simply running around Spain to get into the backfield, forcing an early throw from Smith that ended with a drop from Ivan McCartney.

  • The running back position continues to be a revolving door, as five players are all vying to earn substantial playing time. All have alternately been impressive.

    Daquan Hargrett had his moment to shine Wednesday, taking advantage of a spread-out defense on one inside handoff late in drills, bursting through the middle of the field and going untouched on what was a 65-yard touchdown run.

    As far as the larger power backs go, Matt Lindamood caught the eye of position coach Robert Gillespie, making several solid blocks in pass protection and coming out of the backfield to make a pair of catches.

    Lindamood may push teammate Ryan Clarke for playing time among the bigger backs, while Hargrett is part of a position battle with Shawne Alston and Trey Johnson.

  • The aforementioned Johnson was the intended receiver of a pass from Smith at one point, but the ball bounced off his shoulder and popped into the air just long enough for Tyler Anderson to pick it off near the sidelines.

    That was the only turnover committed during the time media was permitted to watch practice.

  • We have previously described the specifics of the ball security circuit the offense concludes each practice with, as skill position players rotate among three different stations to focus on different aspects of preventing turnovers.

    While those drills proceed on one end of the Mountaineer Field surface, the blue-clad defense focuses on techniques aimed at causing turnovers.

    Cornerbacks work with position coach David Lockwood on getting one arm across a ball-carrier's body and grasping at the football before "ripping" it away from the offensive player's torso. They then are specifically taught not to bend down and pick the ball up, but instead to go after it in a "scooping" motion -- something Lockwood had to emphasize to multiple players Wednesday.

    Meanwhile, linebackers go through a sequence that likely has a two-fold purpose. One set of players holds footballs around chest level, then those players quickly raise the ball over their heads. At that point, the set of players actually being drilled makes an aggressive move to hit the football and jar it loose as quickly as possible.

    Visually, this mimics the way a linebacker would jump up to try to keep an opposing receiver from catching a ball (knocking it away at its highest point) and what those players would do if they get to an opposing quarterback in the middle of his throwing motion, trying to force a fumble.

    Defensive linemen and safeties also have their own respective drills, which we'll dissect further as practices continue.


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