Practice Notebook 3/11

Bright sunshine and the warmest day in months greeted the Mountaineers on Sunday, as they began their first-ever spring practice period under the direction of head coach Dana Holgorsen.

  • The actual structure of practice was largely unchanged from the fall camp that Holgorsen directed before the 2011-12 season. Special teams work began drills and took up much of the 30 minutes reporters were permitted to see. There was no "live" action during that 30-minute open period.

    In special teams work, Corey Smith impressed with both the quality and consistency of his punts. Essentially every kick was both long and high, with plenty of hang time. Smith fared far better than Michael Molinari, who shanked one punt short and out of bounds, while another was a line drive.

    In the drills reporters were permitted to see, newly-minted special teams coordinator Steve Dunlap worked mostly with coverage and protection units, while Joe DeForest spent his time with the kickers themselves. After one impressive kick from Smith, DeForest worked with the punter on some of the finer technique points of his drop.

  • In the five minutes or so I stood watching Erik Slaughter work defensive line drills, I may have heard him speak more than I heard from Bill Kirelawich in the five previous years I covered the program.

    Slaughter was not afraid to stop a drill entirely to work with an individual on details of technique. He taught the very basics to his players on Day One, working on hand placement and quick recognition if an opposing offensive lineman is dropping into pass protection or working to run block.

    Slaughter also was in charge of the "Buck" linebackers on Sunday, leading them through fundamental pass rush drills. Hip angles, speed and taking a proper angle to the quarterback were all emphasized. The new position coach also reinforced the need for players to us their upfield arm to secure a tackle before using the other arm to take an aggressive swipe at the ball.

    Drills ran slowly because Slaughter had to stop so frequently to drill fundamentals, but he stated his intention to run those drills at a higher tempo once basics are mastered.

  • If Slaughter's drills were dominated by stops and starts, DeForest's work with the safeties was surprisingly smooth for the first day of practice.

    The most common word out of the new co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach's mouth was "good."

    Safeties worked on making their backpedal while staying low and chopping their feet to maintain an ability to change direction quickly. They also worked on man-to-man techniques, including when the proper time is to flip their hips and lock on an individual receiver -- and how to maintain a dominant position at that moment.

  • Holgorsen himself was apt to spend his time watching defensive drills. He particularly seemed interested in progress at safety and cornerback and was content to let his new offensive coordinator, Shannon Dawson, run offensive work on the other side of the field.

    Dawson led quarterbacks and receivers through timing drills -- a fixture of Holgorsen's workouts last year and something that leads off essentially every Mountaineer practice.

    "Early," Dawson said dismissively at one point to one of his players, dissatisfied with when they broke off their routes, emphasizing the importance of timing to the drill.

  • Former Mountaineer players Najee Goode, Bruce Irvin and Keith Tandy walked the sidelines during drills, observing the new defensive staff at work. Each looked in especially good physical shape, perhaps the result of the looming NFL Draft.

  • Though both moves were listed on the depth chart released last week, this was the first chance for reporters to see former cornerback Ishmael Banks work with DeForest at safety and former offensive lineman Cody Clay spending time with the inside receivers.

  • Holgorsen will meet with reporters at 7:00 p.m. on Sunday to review the first day of drills, and will be there to bring you video and a story from the head coach's press conference.

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