Spring Practice Notebook: Day 7

On Wednesday, its first day of practice since Saturday, the West Virginia football team did its best to disprove the theory that absence makes the heart grow fonder by engaging in what was certainly the most intense practice of the Mountaineers' spring drills thus far.

That enthusiasm boiled over on multiple occasions throughout the time reporters were permitted to watch practice.

During one-on-one battles between offensive and defensive linemen, Bruce Irvin took exception to the tactics of his opponent, Nick Kindler. A brief shoving match resulted, but Irvin backed away as Kindler's offensive line mates came closer to the action.

Irvin settled with taking several verbal jabs at Kindler, and defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich wisely opted to keep Irvin out of the one-on-one drill for the last few minutes before "team" periods began.

Tensions again peaked during that segment of practice, as a full-scale, benches-clearing brawl briefly broke out after one play. Though it was difficult to see what exactly got things started, one offensive player threw the ball at a defender's head after a play completed, and the fracas began.

Tensions defused quickly on their own, as coaches, like running backs mentor Robert Gillespie, didn't see the need to get involved. "I ain't getting in that," he chuckled to offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, who was standing near the sidelines, watching the short-lived brawl play out.

  • When WVU players were getting work done and not fighting with each other, it was another day with mixed results for both offense and defense.

    The first play of full-scale "team" drills saw wide receiver Brad Starks get a bit of separation as he battled cornerback Brantwon Bowser in a one-on-one situation. But quarterback Geno Smith slightly underthrew Starks, allowing Bowser to catch up and make just enough of a play to force an incompletion.

    Starks stayed on the turf for a good while after the play and was slow to get up, as he appeared to be favoring his right arm. Trainers tended to him on the sideline, but Holgorsen didn't seem to be so sure the receiver was hurt, rather vocally questioning why the oft-injured senior wasn't in the action on multiple occasions.

    Starks did not take part in any more reps for the remainder of practice.

  • Irvin may have taken his frustrations with Kindler with him to team drills, as he was again essentially never blocked and would have registered at least two sacks (and likely more) had he been permitted to take quarterbacks to the ground.

  • It is still early in spring, and Gillespie indicated that other factors such as pass protection and the ability to run routes out of the backfield will play into the coaches' decision, but Daquan Hargrett continues to impress at running back.

    While it is difficult to handicap the ability of Hargrett and other running backs in those areas so early, Hargrett has consistently been the toughest runner on the Mountaineers' roster this spring.

    He again burst through the middle of the defense, displaying good pad level and an ability to keep his balance through contact, on a run that would have gone for at least 30 yards on Wednesday.

    That's not to say he has been able to get out of every tough situation. A few plays later, he took a handoff from Smith and was met almost immediately by both Julian Miller and Jorge Wright for a loss of three or four yards.

  • Tyler Urban also has continued to be a solid option at inside receiver, as he made a nice quick move to beat his cornerback on a slant pattern -- a read that quarterback Paul Millard made perfectly and delivered almost immediately for a gain of 20 or more yards between the hashes.

    Unfortunately for Millard, that was about the only highlight he had on what was easily his roughest day of work in "team" drills.

    He drew the angst of Holgorsen on several occasions for delivering a few balls where his receiver had no chance to catch them, held onto the ball in the pocket for too long on other plays, and rushed a couple of reads -- one of which came on a short pass across the middle that landed right in the chest of linebacker Josh Francis, who somehow failed to come up with what should have been an easy interception.

    Later, Millard received a snap and almost immediately had both Doug Rigg and Irvin coming for him. Millard, perhaps in a bit of a panic, fell to the ground. His left shoe came off in the process, drawing laughs from Irvin and others on defense, who taunted the young quarterback about supposedly being scared.

  • Holgorsen's offensive system has almost consistently led to at least one play per practice where the defense is simply bewildered and ends up in a completely blown coverage, and Wednesday was no exception.

    Stedman Bailey found himself as open as any receiver could ever be on one play, with no blue shirt within 15 yards of him in any direction -- a tough thing to do, considering the ball was snapped on the defense's 30-yard line.

    Smith found his former high school teammate and Bailey casually walked into the end zone for a score.

  • Among the younger players taking part in spring practice, Avery Williams is certainly a name to watch. He again made a few plays that left cornerbacks coach David Lockwood impressed.

    Williams, like Francis, should have had an interception, as a Smith pass intended for Willie Millhouse came right to him. But the young corner dropped the ball.

    Later, Williams got burnt by Millhouse on a quick slant that went for a touchdown. But he learned from his mistake.

    On the last play of "team" drills, Williams kept good inside position, forcing Ivan McCartney to fade toward the corner of the end zone. Smith lofted a floating pass towards the back pylon, but Williams again made a good play, waiting until just the right moment as the ball arrived to initiate contact with McCartney and ensure the ball would not be caught in bounds.

    As the offensive and defensive players went to work with their position coaches during West Virginia's ball security/turnover circuit just after that play, Lockwood heaped some praise on the young cornerback.

    "You can't get beat inside, young puppy," the cornerbacks coach said repeatedly to Williams. "The harder throw is that one (the fade). The easy throw is that slant. But I love your attitude. I love your attitude."

  • McCartney continued to line up as an outside receiver, but several of his routes towards the goal line led him towards the middle of the field. He made plays there, catching back-to-back balls from Smith, the latter of which went for a 12-yard touchdown.

    McCartney came to the sideline after making that play, and Holgorsen quickly said, "You're not done," to the young receiver. McCartney explained he had come off the field to tie his shoe, to which the offensive coordinator said, "Hurry up," before saying he was tired of seeing players make a play and then, apparently satisfied, take the next four or five snaps off.

  • Big offensive tackle Quinton Spain took a few reps at guard Wednesday, something offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh later said was done out of necessity because of the few healthy bodies the Mountaineers have along the front five at this point.

    But Bedenbaugh admitted he wanted to see what Spain looked like at an inside position as well, something he said he would evaluate in film study of Wednesday's practice.

  • While things are still up-and-down for Smith as he continues to adjust to the new offense, his confidence in his own skills and in the system is clearly beginning to grow.

    He made one jaw-dropping throw Wednesday, fitting a ball through an impossibly tiny seam across the middle of the field to Tavon Austin, who caught it for a touchdown of about 20 yards.

    There were no fewer than four defenders who appeared to be close enough to the trajectory of the pass to possibly make a play on the ball, but Smith delivered it with enough zip to fit through all of them and into Austin's waiting arms.

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