The first person to illustrate that point was senior defensive back Keith Tandy, who was one of the leaders of WVU's unsupervised 7-on-7 drills over the summer months. Tandy recognizes the importance of the work, but also noted that it can be difficult to keep everything on track when coaches aren't around.
"The main thing on our defense is the effort," he said of the summer work and its difference from playing the game in pads during the fall. "We are giving out effort but it's not anywhere near where it needed to be. We'd start out flying to the ball but we didn't finish up that way."
No matter how much Tandy and the other leaders preached all-out play on every summer snap, it's easy to see that the stakes aren't the same, at least in the short term. Although good work habits in the summer should lead to better results in the fall, not every player is going to understand that relationship – especially youngsters going through their first or second off-season program. Tandy and the rest of the upperclassmen in the secondary tried to impart those lessons, but it's easier to teach newcomers drills that it is to watch and gauge effort on every play. As a result, there's a striking difference between performance in 7-on-7 when no one is watching and practices under the unblinking eyes of coaches and video cameras.
Summer play can also lead to some bad habits. Again, without coaches to correct them, errors in technique can creep into a player's performance. Mentoring veterans will point those out when apparent, but as they concentrate on their own play, some things might be missed. Tandy spotted one of those when WVU reconvened for fall camp.
"In the secondary we were looking to much at the quarterback – we needed to get our eyes back on the receivers," he said.
Another limiting factor of 7-on-7 is its narrow focus.
"Not having the lines out there makes a big difference," Tandy noted. "And in 7-on-7 you know they are going to pass on every play. It's a lot easier to play that when you know it's coming on every play. You aren't going to bite on play action like you would in a normal situation."
The good news is that the mistakes of summer play can be quickly cleaned up in the first few days of fall camp. Intensity was clearly an emphasis during the first two weeks of practice, and assistant coach David Lockwood, clearly a technician of secondary play, pays a great deal of attention to the minutiae that contribute to solid technique. Still, it points out the differences between fake football and the real thing.
"One of the biggest things is tempo," Tandy concluded. "You have to make sure you keep that up."
Head coach Dana Holgorsen also highlighted that point following the concluding scrimmage of fall camp, noting that no matter the success of the summer program, there are things that just don't translate from the running of law school hill to the gridiron.
"We noticed a few guys that aren't tough enough physically that are able to maintain focus and be in the right place," Holgorsen said as he recounted his displeasure with the session. "That is why you do it, so you can film it and see who the guys that are mentally weak and who the guys are that can push themselves and continue to function when it is hot, and they are tired. It is a football game, and there is going to be adversity."
Lest anyone think Holgorsen was pointing the finger at the summer conditioning, he quickly explained that wasn't the case.
"It has nothing to do with what their conditioning was during the summer. There is a difference between being in good shape and good football shape. Being in good football shape is totally different that being able to lineup and run 10 100's and meeting your time. It is different because you are getting smacked in the mouth, and you have to think."
All this doesn't mean, of course, that summer programs are a waste of time and effort. Summer conditioning is the foundation on which "football shape" is built, and the fact that time doesn't have to be spent building that base during fall camp is important. However, it's just as instructive to note that "winning the summer" doesn't necessarily equate to wins on the field.