Once again, the focus of the first sessions centered on special teams. WVU worked kickoff and return with the majority of the skill players while the offensive and defensive lines broke off to drill separately, then against each other in later periods. The units went full scale on kickoffs, with Josh Lambert handling the majority of the kicks and placing the ball solidly near the goal line, but not often deep into the end zone.
Assistant coach Lonnie Galloway, who also oversaw punt returns, worked alongside fellow former-turned-current-again assistant JuJuan Seider in teaching communication, ball placement and reading the flow and blocking schemes. Several Mountaineers worked into the rotation, including receiver Jordan Thompson, running backs Andrew Buie and Wendall Smallwood and cornerbacks Broderick Jenkins and Vernon Davis. One deep back was designated the "leader," or the one who would call who was to field the kick and if it was to be brought out of the end zone once the ball was in the air.
The set-up appeared to work well, as there were no miscommunications on kickoffs or hesitancy in bringing the ball out or taking the touchback. Davis, especially, showed nice burst getting upfield. The plays were blown dead before tackles went to the ground, and there wasn't truly much of what coaches term "thudding up," or wrapping around the shoulders without taking to the ground. Live special teams are among the more injury-prone aspects of practices, and it's likely West Virginia's staff didn't want to take risks during the earlier portions of contact drills.
Lambert again looked solid on placekicks, taking several from each hash, typically from within 35 yards. His kicks had respectable distance and elevation and appeared to clear the line well. It helped that WVU's offensive front maintained blocks and didn't allow penetration – though like any single team-on-team drill, if one side is good, that triggers questions about the other. Indeed, there wasn't much of a push from the defensive trench, but it's a bit early to be trying to make inferences merely by the viewing of a handful of plays.
West Virginia did go full contact in the final periods of its first half hour, matching the offensive and defensive linemen in one drill and the backs and tight ends against the linebackers and secondary in a one-on-one pass rush scenario. The defensive players rushed upfield between two cones in an attempt to sack the quarterback dummy that was set-up 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage. The drill is especially beneficial in seeing how players attack and their ability to break down and use mechanics like hand and head placement, footwork and adjusting on the fly via their own moves or counteracting ones being utilized against them.
Linebacker Isaiah Bruce and running back Dreamius Smith, a junior college transfer in his first season with the Mountaineers, looked especially adept. Bruce was able to dominate some of the backs via sheer bullrushing ability, while Smith showed good upper-body strength and the will to take the fight to an opposing player while maintaining the discipline lower-body balance needed to maintain blocks. Smith, at 5-11 and 217 pounds, appears to have the build, muscle and maturity – at least thus far – to be a significant contributor this spring. Linebacker Garrett Hope, just a sophomore, also had his moments while ‘backer Shaq Petteway and Buie were workmanlike but effective in most of their reps.
West Virginia then broke into units, with the secondary working backpedaling and getting in and out of turns, the quarterbacks throwing to wideouts and backs and the defensive line hitting the sled and working different rush moves while the offensive line drilled punch, hand placement and footwork.
Ford Childress and Paul Millard again looked comfortable, if not spectacular, with their accuracy and delivery. Both made most of the throws effectively and, if anything, undershot the targeted netting, which is much preferable to an overthrow. Chavas Rawlins was a bit less accurate, and one might wonder if the freshman, who graduated high school early to enroll this spring, might be showing a touch of fatigue from not being accustomed to throwing this many reps this frequently, even with a day off between sessions. There is typically an adjustment period, both mentally and physically, for newcomers, especially ones who could still be in the prep ranks. Transfer Logan Moore was adequate as well, at times missing the netting completely and at times delivering with decent accuracy and velocity.