Spring Practice Notebook: Day 10

On some days of spring practice, West Virginia's offense has looked dominant. On others, the defense has held more of an upper hand. But attempting to extrapolate too much from the big plays and big days for either side might be an exercise in futility, according to the Mountaineers' two coordinators.

Both Jeff Casteel and Dana Holgorsen referred to the need each side of the ball has to "manufacture" looks for the other so each can prepare for the schemes they will see during the season, and not just during spring and fall practices.

Casteel's defense, for example, does not get much in the way of a chance to practice against, say, a Power I formation.

Holgorsen's offense, which often employs several receivers on any given snap, would give Casteel plenty of chances to work on his third down defensive schemes, but Casteel is still focusing on installation and polish of the "base" principles of his 3-3-5 stack at this point.

Likewise, that unorthodox defense presents Holgorsen with some challenges when trying to prepare his own players. The offensive line won't so much as see a four-man front until fall camp, when a scout team can be developed, according to Holgorsen.

So as both coordinators shared their thoughts after evaluating film from Saturday's scrimmage, both seemed guarded in their optimism. After all, they may not truly know how prepared their respective squads are for other teams for quite some time.

  • With all that said, reporters still can only report what they see, and what transpired during Monday's session in shorts and shoulder pads was another stalemate -- one where both sides of the ball had moments of glory and moments that gave their respective coordinators fits.

    The first play of 11-on-11 drills saw Tavon Austin take a reverse and find a crease near the middle of the field, where he sprinted forward, faked one way and sprinted towards the opposite sideline to gain about 25 yards.

    The defense tightened up on a couple of subsequent snaps (and again was largely successful at stopping the offense's attempts to run between the tackles).

    But on third-and-9, quarterback Geno Smith took the snap, immediately turned to his left and fired the ball to Stedman Bailey, who was in full stride on an inside route and easily gained 20 yards by running through a small seam down the middle of the field.

  • Players on both sides of the ball are clearly starting to get more comfortable with the various calls and checks that happen before each snap, something that was borne out on one early play.

    Smith and the offense approached the line, only to see defensive backs and linebackers roaming around, creeping towards the line of scrimmage and then backing up to disguise their true intentions.

    Offensive linemen responded in kind, identifying where they thought pressure would be coming from and adjusting their assignments accordingly. Smith barked out signals to his receivers as well.

    Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of those cat-and-mouse games, the snap came. Smith found receiver J.D. Woods sprinting down one sideline (he beat cornerback Brodrick Jenkins on the play) and connected for a 70-yard touchdown.

  • The days of power running on third-and-1 plays might be over. The offense, under the direction of backup quarterback Paul Millard, faced one of those situations early in drills.

    Instead of handing off, Millard dropped back to throw. He surveyed the field, found no one open quickly, then rolled to his left before seeing Ivan McCartney break free. The freshman signal-caller delivered the ball to the receiver for a gain of about eight yards -- more than enough to move the chains.

  • That doesn't mean the big backs are in Holgorsen's doghouse.

    The offensive coordinator again went out of his way to praise the efforts of Matt Lindamood and Ricky Kovatch on Monday, and said Ryan Clarke -- who hasn't carried the ball in several days since losing a couple of fumbles last week -- has shown some signs of progressing as well.

  • Linebacker Branko Busick was not in action for Monday's practice, as he complained of a sore back after Saturday's scrimmage and is officially day-to-day.

    He watched from the sideline in a T-shirt and shorts.

  • Another explosive play for the offense came on a flea flicker. Smith handed off to Vernard Roberts (who Holgorsen singled out as showing the most progress in the last week), who flipped it back to the quarterback.

    Smith was spoiled for choice, as both Woods and McCartney were open. He threw to McCartney, perhaps not having looked to his second read since his first was open. McCartney hauled in the pass for about a 50-yard gain.

    But if Smith had looked to Woods, he would have had almost a sure touchdown, as Woods had again left his defender looking at the back of his jersey.

  • Tyler Urban, who was perhaps the star of the first week of drills and had a quieter second week, made his presence felt again Monday. He caught ball after ball after ball, making athletic plays to jump up and grab a couple of passes that were a bit higher than they should have been.

    Urban caught a 6-yard touchdown pass late in drills. Holgorsen again said after practice that the converted tight end has been his most consistent receiver thus far.

  • It was not the best day for cornerback Bratwon Bowser, who was on the wrong end of three touchdown receptions towards the end of practice.

    On the first, Bowser's position coach, David Lockwood, predicted a touchdown before the snap. He was clairvoyant, as Smith took the snap, turned quickly to his left to fake a screen, then spun around to the opposite side to find McCartney open, having run a quick slant and getting across Bowser's face for a score.

    Lockwood mockingly sung the melody to "Hail, West Virginia!" to Bowser.

    But the band would have played on, as Willie Millhouse caught a touchdown pass with Bowser in coverage. And to end the day, Austin ran a fade route to one corner of the end zone. Bowser look to be in good position, but Austin reached around the cornerback's body and pulled in the ball anyway for a score.

  • Former Mountaineer receivers coach Lonnie Galloway was in attendance for Monday morning's session. The lone assistant coach from the previous offensive staff retained by Holgorsen, Galloway left Morgantown in March to take a similar position at Wake Forest.

    Wearing a black, long sleeve shirt with no logos of any kind, Galloway stood and watched the 11-on-11 portion of practice from the defensive sideline, stepping a few yards out onto the field at one point to get a closer look at things.

    He shook hands with WVU assistant athletic director for communications Michael Fragale as he walked off the field after practice and headed for the Milan Puskar Center.

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