Spring Practice Notebook: Day 8

There was not much in the way of good news for the WVU football team's offense on Friday morning, as it was largely dominated by its teammates on defense during practice. And to add injury to that insult, one of its senior stalwarts, Brad Starks, underwent a surgical procedure on his right shoulder that will keep him out of action for 12 weeks.

Starks sprained the AC joint in his right shoulder according to the Mountaineers' head trainer, Dave Kerns. A sprain is the same thing as a separation of that joint, he explained, and thus, Starks had to have a screw put in place to repair the damage.

Kerns said he expects no complications from the injury after Starks' recovery period, which will eliminate the receiver from much of West Virginia's voluntary summer workouts.

  • Appropriately enough, the offense had one of its toughest days of the spring on the same day it lost Starks. The blue-clad defense was seemingly omnipresent, keeping the offense from so much as getting a first down for much of the early portion of "team" periods toward the end of practice.

    The defense set the tone early, as the second play of those 11-on-11 drills saw both sides of the ball get into another large-scale brawl, quite similar to the one that broke out on Wednesday morning.

    Running back Trey Johnson caught a pass on a short screen from Geno Smith, but he was quickly wrapped up by a host of tacklers. But those tacklers didn't let up, even after it was clear Johnson's progress had been stopped and the play was essentially over.

    A few of Johnson's offensive teammates took exception to the rough tactics, and a bit of pushing and shoving quickly turned into another large-scale scrum.

    Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel had to get right in the middle of the fight to break up some of the battles, rather vocally admonishing his players for getting involved.

  • The punches and shoves stopped at that point, but the defense still bullied the offense for much of the rest of the morning's session.

    There was plenty of early pressure on Smith, as multiple defenders seemed to be in the quarterback's face on almost every throw. That forced some early passes -- something offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen's system is certainly capable of dealing with effectively.

    But while Smith was close to hooking up with receivers on almost every play, few of those quick tosses resulted in completions. The pressure forced a series of incomplete passes, save for one play on a comeback route ran by Coley White that was caught near the sideline for a first down.

    Even the mainstay plays that had worked for much of the first sessions of spring were shut down. A throw from Smith intended for Tyler Urban, who was running between the hashes -- a place he has been open so often this spring -- was well defended by linebacker Najee Goode, who had little problem breaking up the pass.

    In general, defensive backs did a solid job of coverage, and an even better job of timing hits perfectly as the ball arrived to separate it from the intended receiver.

    And inside runs, which were useful at least as a change of pace from the passing onslaught of Holgorsen's offense in recent weeks, were almost totally unsuccessful on Friday. The most successful of those plays went for about three or four yards.

  • But all wasn't perfect for the defense. Nose tackles Jorge Wright and Josh Taylor each committed an encroachment penalty, pushing over opposing centers on separate occasions.

    And when the offense got to work closer to the end zone, it finally found its stride to an extent.

    On the first play of a series that began at the defense's 30-yard line, Smith found freshman Vernard Roberts with a short toss, and the shifty newcomer did the rest. He left two defenders grasping at air with one hard juke move and quickly got upfield, just beating the desperate tackle attempt of a safety for a touchdown.

    Receiver Ivan McCartney got into the act as well, catching two touchdown passes once the line of scrimmage was moved closer to the goal line. He beat cornerback Avery Williams in a jump ball situation near one corner of the end zone for an 18-yard score.

    McCartney's second TD came as part of a series of successful plays that originated with the offense's "diamond" formation, featuring three backs in the backfield with Smith.

    As the formation is designed to do, wide receivers were left in man-to-man coverage when West Virginia went to the diamond. On the first play the formation was in use, Stedman Bailey was the target of a quick Smith pass to the end zone, but he was unable to get off a jam at the line of scrimmage, allowing the pass to fall incomplete.

    But McCartney got open on a quick slant for an easy 2-yard touchdown on the next play, and Bailey atoned for his mistake on the subsequent snap, winning a jump ball for another score.

  • WVU will scrimmage Saturday morning at Milan Puskar Stadium. Check back with BlueGoldNews.com for all the details.

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