Fall Practice Report: Day 3

The third day of the West Virginia football team's preseason camp was the first time the Mountaineers were able to put on a bit of light padding. Predictably, the intensity of the workout ratcheted up a notch.

It would hardly seem as though WVU defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich would need a reason to raise the intensity level. After all, the veteran Mountaineer assistant has long been known for his fiery nature -- even after more than three decades of coaching in Morgantown.

But with his charges donning "shells" for the first time this camp (as mandated by NCAA rules), Kirelawich was in midseason form, tossing out colorful language -- most of which is simply not fit for publication -- as he corrected the defensive linemen's many mistakes.

Those who think of Kirelawich solely as a disciplinarian, though, are mistaken. He might be the most professorial of West Virginia's assistant coaches, constantly reinforcing fundamentals vocally and through demonstration. It's rare that a single rep goes by without some words from the man known by those around the program as "Kirlav."

Sometimes, they come in the form of one-word commands. "Move, move, move, move, move," he instructs before almost every snap, reminding his players that theirs is not a position in which success can be found passively.

Indeed, if one was to attempt to sum up the task of the defensive line during camp, it might go something like this: aggressively pursue fundamental perfection.

Kirelawich led his charges through "grass drills" to start their positional workout. Players use the plyometric strength they developed through a summer with conditioning coach Mike Joseph, exploding out of a slightly bent position on the ground. The emphasis is on that key word -- explosion. But quick movement alone isn't good enough, as every rep sees Kirelawich watching for those who are failing to keep a low center of gravity or have an improper hip angle.

"Don't come high," the assistant coach barked out. "Roll over the shoulder. Quick! Keep your hips in with your eyes."

The commands are short and simple, but there are so many things each defensive lineman must concern himself with on every play that it's little wonder the newcomers might seem a bit lost.

Highly-touted newcomer Shaq Rowell received a bit of constructive criticism from his new position coach.

In one drill that focuses on forcing players to deliver a quick "punch" (the initial attack with the hands a defensive lineman delivers as soon as the ball is snapped), Rowell was chided by Kirelawich for not making his move "snappy" enough. A second attempt saw a quick correction, as Rowell delivered much more power and speed into his opponent as soon as the simulated snap (a graduate assistant slapping the ball into his opposite palm) occurred.

Indeed, speed is key along the defensive front. Slow punches from several players caused Kirelawich more than a bit of angst. And when defensive linemen worked on "ripping" upfield or "swimming" to get away from blockers, some ran too slowly upfield for the coach's liking.

There was always something to be corrected. Rowell was "too high" in the coach's eyes on a later snap. Kyle Rose was given a lengthy lecture on the importance of keeping his hands inside, close to the blocker's chest plate, to gain the advantage of leverage. Kirelawich used Bruce Irvin as an example of the right way of doing this.

Some had their rear ends too low before the snap. Others had to be reminded in one drill that they needed to make their "rip" move straight upfield -- "north-south," as Kirelawich said. Some had to be told how to position their bodies when lining up for certain calls. Others had to be reminded to keep their feet flat in one drill.

The constant teaching led to the occasional Kirelawich blow-up. But it was worth noting the way the veteran coach answered every question his players asked, and would even delay the next rep to do so. He personally jumped in the fray to display several techniques.

It was also telling that Irvin, perhaps Kirelawich's biggest star at the position this year (an honor Julian Miller might fight for as well), was the one asking the most questions. Entering his last of only two seasons at WVU, Irvin is clearly eager to make up for lost time in terms of learning technique.

But all the teaching goes out the window momentarily when the defensive linemen go match up with Bill Bedenbaugh's offensive linemen for a series of one-on-one battles.

The first of those was perhaps the most explosive -- Irvin pitted against offensive tackle Don Barclay. The two fought to an apparent stalemate, neither gaining ground on the other, both engaged in a physical battle that was more typical of a practice in full pads rather than one in "shells."

When Irvin wasn't taking reps, he was part cheerleader, part student, part teacher. After defensive line newcomer Ben Tomasek dominated fellow freshman offensive lineman Russell Haughton-James on one play, it was Irvin who led the hoots and hollers of approval.

The battles continued. Sometimes, the blue shirts won. Others saw the white-clad offensive players victorious. Neither Kirelawich or Bedenbaugh seemed particularly happy -- but line coaches rarely do.

The whistle blew once more, and the two sides retired to their respective areas of the field once more, leaving Kirelawich to again go to work, attempting to correct the minutiae that can be the difference between success and failure at one of the less glamorous positions in football.

RIFLE REPORTS:

  • Mountaineer running back Daquan Hargrett was not seen during the open portion of practice. It was not immediately clear if there was a reason for Hargrett's absence.

    BlueGoldNews.com will have more on that situation after Dana Holgorsen's press conference is conducted later Monday evening.

  • Inside receiver Tyler Urban was the lone player not in a blue (defense), white (offense) or gold (quarterbacks) jersey on Monday. He donned a green top, which is worn by those players limited in some way but still able to practice.

    WVU head trainer Dave Kerns indicated Urban "bumped his head" before camp ever started, and the green jersey was simply a precautionary measure, as Kerns is attempting to avoid having Urban take any more hits to the head for the time being.

    Beyond that, Kerns said Urban is cleared to fully participate in practices -- and, indeed, he has done so.

  • Again, reporters were not able to see any "live" work that pitted offense against defense, as only the first 30 minutes of practice were open to media members.

    As was the case on both of the first two days of drills, the first few periods of work were devoted to special teams -- field goal kicking and punt work.

    With light shoulder pads on, coaches saw fit to send a rush at place-kickers. Tyler Bitancurt showed signs of improvement in terms of getting his kicks to elevate more quickly, as low line-drives were a consistent feature in spring practice, leading to several blocks. Bitancurt did miss a field goal of about 37 yards from the right hash wide to the right.

    Backup kicker Corey Smith fared similarly, making his first few attempts before missing a kick from the same spot as Bitancurt, though Smith's was pulled wide to the left. At least for one day, no kicks were blocked.


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