Fall Practice Report: Day 5

Wednesday evening saw WVU players don full pads for the first time during fall camp, and the Mountaineer cornerbacks wasted little time in creating a little contact during drills.

As soon as the stretching and special teams periods that begin each West Virginia practice were over, the corners joined the safeties in a small group drill that pitted them against the team's receivers.

It was an exercise focused on executing during screen plays. Quarterbacks Geno Smith and Paul Millard took turns throwing quick bubble or tunnel screens to one of three receivers lined up to one side of the field. Three defenders -- two corners and one safety -- waited. Their task was to work to quickly get off blocks and make a tackle.

Perhaps this is head coach Dana Holgorsen's version of an old-school inside rushing drill. There certainly was no lack of contact. One hit was jarring enough to send cornerback Avery Williams' helmet flying off. Without any regard for his personal safety, he continued to pursue the ball carrier.

"I like the pop," Williams' position coach, David Lockwood, said. "I like the pop."

Holgorsen did as well, but wanted to limit any extracurricular activity. The head Mountaineer chimed in at one point to remind players to stop at the whistle, indicating there had been issues with obeying that rule during Tuesday's workout.

Success was mixed for both sides. Some plays ended in quick tackles. Others saw players like Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey squirt free for what would have been touchdowns.

Pursuit, Lockwood reminded his charges, is all about footwork. He chided Brodrick Jenkins at one point during the drill for "hopping" towards the receiver with the ball instead of chopping his feet in that direction.

Indeed, much of the cornerbacks' position-specific drills with Lockwood were focused on that most pivotal of fundamentals. After the small group work was done, players went to their area of the field, where an apparatus consisting of a piece of fabric draped over four metal legs (standing about four-feet high) waited for them.

The purpose of the gadget? It's a way to force players to stay low in a semi-squat during their backpedal. Lockwood spent several minutes working the corners through a series of footwork patterns under the device -- first, just a straight backpedal; then backpedals at different angles; then backpedals with a 180-degree turn towards the end (when players quickly had to spot and catching a ball heading towards them).

No detail is left to chance. The balls Lockwood tosses at his players during this drill are painted white on both ends, reinforcing the players' need to catch the ball at the "cone" of it to ensure better control.

To be sure, these are not drills conducted at even a moderate effort. They are full-bore, all-out efforts that strain even the best-conditioned of athletes at Lockwood's disposal. One only had to listen to the grunts of players like Keith Tandy, Avery Williams, Pat Miller and others to know that they were truly pushing to the maximum on every rep.

All the while, Lockwood was watching, pushing players even further. "Lower, lower, lower, lower, lower," he called out time and time again. Williams, like Jenkins before him, was called out for "hopping."

Finally, the apparatus was taken to the sideline, but was quickly replaced by eight small cones, spaced apart over a 15-yard-wide area. Players started at one cone, backpedaled to the one behind them, then ran full speed to one ahead of them diagonally, stopped quickly, backpedaled again, and so on.

The drill was tiring and was a true test of each player's footwork. Even those towards the top of the depth chart found it difficult, as Miller stumbled and nearly fell at one point. "Keep your feet, Pat," Lockwood quickly called out.

Others found it even harder. Walk-on Anthony Vecchio, a Morgantown High product, was one of several who knocked cones over and came close to falling down. Just about every player grunted his way through the workout.

Finally, the physical work began again -- but this time, with a twist.

Cornerbacks attacked other cornerbacks in a drill that started with two players lying on their backs, about 10 yards apart, facing away from each other. Lockwood slapped the ball to mimic a snap, and each player rose to his feet as quickly as possible. He flipped the ball to the one closest to him, who caught it and took off as though he were a receiver. His opponent had to quickly close the gap and make a tackle.

Pursuit and tackling fundamentals were the name of the game here. And Lockwood didn't miss a single mistake, even as he kept tossing the ball to start each battle. "No base, Icky," he said to Ishmael Banks after one shoddy tackle attempt. "No base."

RIFLE REPORTS:

  • It took almost a week, but the Mountaineers finally had their first players held out of action due to injury on Wednesday.

    Safety Darwin Cook and receiver Andrew Goldbaugh were both in red and pedaling a stationary bicycle behind one end zone. West Virginia's head trainer, Dave Kerns, said both players sustained "lower body extremity strains" during practice Tuesday. How long each would be held out was unclear.

    Defensive back Lawrence Smith wore green as he dealt with what Kerns termed an "upper body joint stain." Smith was running in practice, but would not be taking or delivering any hits as a result.

    While those players were added to the ranks of the injured, inside receiver Tyler Urban was back in white and participating fully in practice. The senior had worn green for each of the past two days to avoid any contact to his head after sustaining what Kerns called "a bump" in the days before camp began.

  • There was one noteworthy difference between the opening minutes of Wednesday's practice and those of the first days of full pads during the Rich Rodriguez and Bill Stewart eras.

    There were no cones set out on the field to start the day. Indeed, the "Oklahoma" or "victory" drill was not a part of the day's schedule, at least during the portion of practice reporters were permitted to see.

    That's not to say things weren't physical. Pads were quickly popping in several small-group drills like the one described earlier in this story.

  • After a few days of relatively clean work, Tyler Bitancurt finally had one of his field goals blocked in the opening portion of practice. It was Pat Miller who got to the very first attempt of the day, blocking the ball cleanly and thoroughly, sending it back in the direction of Bitancurt.

    Defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich, who works with the field goal block unit, wasted little time in talking a bit of trash about Bitancurt -- loudly enough for everyone around the field to hear -- in an attempt to psych the kicker out.

    It may have worked. While there are not officials standing under the goalposts (making it sometimes difficult to see if kicks are actually good or not) at practice, it appeared as though at least a couple of subsequent tries were very close to being pulled wide left.

    The same was true of Corey Smith, although Smith did not have any of his kicks blocked.


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