Fall Practice Report: Day 7

As position-specific drills began at the start of the WVU football team's evening practice on Friday, safeties coach Steve Dunlap promised his players he would work to give them a bit of a rest. Whether he actually followed through was debatable.

"I tell you all the time, I ain't trying to kill you," Dunlap said to his charges. "I'm just trying to make you better."

Though the heat that characterized the first few days of West Virginia's preseason training camp has largely lifted, the start of two-a-day practices has meant players have had precious little respite.

So Dunlap's words were likely music to the safeties' ears. But the veteran assistant coach immediately had his players running -- though, admittedly, in a very small area.

Dunlap placed four cones into a square pattern, with about five yards between each one. Players took turns standing at the center point of all the cones and chopping their feet to run in place. Dunlap, kneeling in front of the set of cones, then pointed in a random direction, towards one of the cones. The player would run towards it, only to see Dunlap point to another just before he arrived.

The drill was meant to work on the safeties' skill in changing directions on the fly. Players were to shuffle their feet side-to-side if they were moving laterally (say, from the front-left cone to the front-right). They were to run in a sort of angled backpedal if they were moving backwards diagonally (from the front-right to the back-left, perhaps). Obviously, forward runs were relatively simple.

It was a simple exercise, but its beauty was in that simplicity.

Players had the chance to show their ability to quickly and fluidly change directions. They were to keep their heads up and their eyes on Dunlap (simulating the need to keep their eyes on an opposing quarterback) instead of towards the cones on the ground. And they could display good footwork skills by not getting their feet crossed up and executing the proper step at each turn.

"If you can do this well..." Dunlap said, trailing off and leaving the thought unfinished, needing to say little else.

"Don't guess. Stop guessing," he chided those who attempted to cheat and get a head start before Dunlap's next move. "I ain't trying to trick you."

While some players frustrated the position coach (Wes Tonkery, particularly, was reminded of his need to squat more and keep his pads low), others shined. Eain Smith and Terence Garvin, perhaps not surprisingly, were held up as examples of how to execute the drill well.

"He's not wasting a lot of what?" Dunlap asked as Smith finished.

"Movement," several players correctly answered, before Smith chimed in to show the others how he had stayed low throughout his reps.

"That's the best reaction drill in the world," Dunlap said to no one in particular as the last players wrapped things up.

He followed that up with another relatively light exercise, aimed at improving the safeties' skills in man-to-man coverage situations.

Players worked in pairs, with one acting as a receiver and one (obviously) as the safety. The defenders started about seven yards back from the faux receivers, and at Dunlap's command, certain routes were run. They always involved the receiver starting in one direction before cutting hard across the safety's face, causing the defender to have to turn his hips sharply mid-run while keeping in contact.

Some players showed they have no future as real receivers, struggling to understand the concept of the route Dunlap wanted them to run. Some of the safeties were corrected for mistakes in their turn or their steps. Others were told they were covering the receiver at the wrong angle, and others still were told they were allowing too much of a gap to open.

This was not nearly as seamless as the initial drill, and Dunlap seemed glad when it finally ended.

"Thank Jesus that's over, huh?" he asked as players walked off, ready for their next task.


  • Wide receiver Bradley Starks was back on Friday.

    Well, sort of.

    Starks, who missed Thursday's workout to deal with a "personal issue" according to head coach Dana Holgorsen, returned to the grass practice field. But the senior was not running routes -- instead, he wore a red (non-participation) jersey and pedaled a stationary bike along with several others.

    All of the players held out of action on Thursday were still out Friday -- with Darwin Cook, Troy Gloster, Julian Miller prominent among them. But there were two more additions to the ranks of the red beyond Starks -- running back Shawne Alston and freshman receiver K.J. Myers.

    Because of limitations imposed by WVU officials, reporters were not permitted to walk past midfield and had to stay on the side of the field closest to the entrance. Thus, this reporter was not able to obtain any further details from head trainer Dave Kerns.

  • Scouts from several NFL teams were in attendance to watch Friday's workout.

    Logos from the Denver Broncos, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars, Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots were visible seen on the polo shirts of those scouts.

    They chatted up Mountaineer strength and conditioning coach Mike Joseph early in practice. At least one scout was overheard asking a question about WVU's star defensive end Bruce Irvin.

  • A day after a shaky performance in special teams drills that start each practice, West Virginia placekicker Tyler Bitancurt fared better on Friday. Bitancurt was perfect for the day, booming most of his attempts high and long. Most were close to being perfectly centered between the uprights.

    For his efforts, Bitancurt received a congratulatory high five from Holgorsen after nailing his last kick.

    Corey Smith did not fare quite as well, as the Inwood native and Alabama transfer had another attempt blocked by Avery Williams, who steamed around the left end to get a hand on the kick.

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