West Virginia conducted its first day of practice in Miami on Friday afternoon, and tried to strike a balance between intensity and fun.
A recurring theme throughout WVU's bowl prep has been getting the team ready, but also allowing it to have fun and enjoy the game and trip as a reward for the season. At every press conference, Dana Holgorsen has commented on that theme, and his coaches continued that prior to Thursday's drills. Both quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital and wide receivers mentor Daron Roberts touched on that balance as being critical to West Virginia's strategy.
That approach was carried out on the field during the open portions of practice. Coaches shared a laugh here and there, but also stepped in to correct mistakes when necessary. Those occasions weren't plentiful, though, as WVU looked reasonably sharp given the layoff. Over the Christmas break, players had running and conditioning programs set up to keep them in a groove, and on the field there weren't any severe signs of rust.
Other notes and observations from the afternoon session:
West Virginia will keep its sessions short and focused. There won't be any three hour marathons as occurred during WVU's Gator Bowl trips under Rich Rodriguez, however. WVU's practices at Barry University in Miami will run about an hour and a half, with a final walkthrough next Wednesday consisting of the normal light throwing and jogging.
Special teams work was a staple of the early sessions. All six teams went through full speed drills, although there wasn't any full scale hitting and tackling on punts and kickoffs. Roberts kept a close eye on his punt and kickoff returners as they handled simulated kicks from a JUGS gun.
Quarterback Geno Smith seemed especially enthusiastic, although there certainly wasn't any reason for many complaints on the beautiful afternoon. Seventy degree temperatures and a cloudless sky made for perfect working conditions.
Plays during 11-on-11 sessions were run at a brisk pace, and the coaches, judging by the absence of complaints, were happy with that and with the efficiency displayed. Both Geno Smith and Paul Millard got in at least 20-30 reps during this one short session.
Wes Tonkery said he has not yet been told whether or not he will be the starter in place of the injured Terence Garvin, but is obviously preparing as if he will be going out with the first 11 in the game. Matt Moro and Travis Bell are other potential replacements.
Friends and family of several Mountaineer players, including Ivan McCartney, were on hand for the practice. Speaking of McCartney, he still appears to be behind J.D. Woods at one outside receiver spot. Woods is expected to get more snaps after his performance in practice and the USF game.
Watching Dana Holgorsen signal in plays to Smith and Millard, it's clear how much effect repetition has on the process. Holgorsen's signals to Smith are much shorter than those he gave to Millard.
No players were in red or green injury jerseys. Terence Garvin is still on crutches following knee surgery, and he, along with other injured Mountaineers, including Josh Jenkins and Josh Taylor, were on the field to watch the action.