Spring Practice Notebook 4/9

Erik Slaughter may be WVU's defensive line coach, but he isn't the only assistant working with the big men up front -- as was evidenced during Tuesday's practice at Milan Puskar Stadium.

The defensive linemen rotated in the early portion of practice among three different stations aimed at improving the fundamentals necessary both at their own respective position and among all players who suit up on the defensive side.

They started with Slaughter, working with a blocking sled on the basics of the initial attack and proper footwork through the first steps of a snap. Slaughter spent plenty of time breaking down exactly what he wanted to see from both Eric Kinsey and Dozie Ezemma, stopping the drill when he saw a rep he didn't like, then asking the player to repeat what he had just done with his teammates watching. Slaughter used each individual's mistakes as a chance to teach the unit as a whole.

For Kinsey, a critical error was the temptation to repeatedly raise his front foot off the ground as he went to "shrug" off the dummy. Slaughter emphasized to Kinsey, and the group, that the front foot needed to stay planted to allow for better balance (lest a blocker knock the defensive lineman to the ground) and leverage.

Slaughter also led the linemen through a set of reps focused on the initial attack from different stances -- a three-point stance (two reps, one with each hand leading) and a two-point stance.

After a few minutes' work with Slaughter, the linemen rotated to a station with safeties coach Tony Gibson, working on proper tackling technique. Players took turns tackling each other into a large, thick pad. All the fundamentals of tackling were emphasized, and as each player worked individually in the drill, giving Gibson the chance to critique each in detail.

Some players struggled to keep their eyes up through contact, others did not have their head forward at the moment of impact. Others still were corrected for not driving through impact with their legs. All showed good form when it came to "wrapping up" the opponent with their arms and taking them to the ground.

Players had a bit of fun with the drill, particularly when two of the biggest linemen, Shaq Rowell and Christian Brown, had to partner up for one rep. Rowell seemed to know what was coming, and true to form, Brown leveled his teammate into the pad. Their teammates got a good laugh out of the mass of humanity piled up after the rep, and Gibson instructed them to get up quickly. "You're killing the pad," he said dryly.

Finally, the defensive linemen rotated to a station with cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell where the focus was on taking proper pursuit angles when faced with the chance to tackle a ball-carrier in the open field.

Elsewhere on the field, special teams drills were again a central part of practice. Kicker Josh Lambert continued what has been an outstanding spring, making five of his six attempts on the day. His lone miss was a 50-yard field goal that was just tipped at the line of scrimmage, sending it wide right.

Despite the deflection, the kick still had ample distance to reach the uprights -- a trend that is noteworthy on all of Lambert's kicks. He has consistently booted the ball with strength, which should serve him well in game action. Lambert's makes came on a pair of point-after tries, a pair of 29-yard attempts from the right hash and a 34-yard kick from the left hash. All were right down the middle of the uprights.

Afterwards, the specialists went to work on "live" punt returns, as defenders both attacked the punt itself in an attempt to block it and covered downfield to force the return unit to block properly. Return men were not tackled, but otherwise, the reps simulated game action.


  • At the end of one drill, Rowell complained of pain in his neck. He was being tended to by WVU head trainer Dave Kerns as his linemates started their next bit of work. There was no immediate indication as to the severity of Rowell's injury, but he did not look to be in extreme discomfort.

  • Redshirt freshman cornerback Vernon Davis may have switched positions, as he was working with the receivers during the portion of practice the media was permitted to witness. Davis sat out the 2012 season after transferring from Miami to WVU.

  • As reporters were walking out of the tunnel at Milan Puskar Stadium at the end of the open period of practice, West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck was walking in to watch the remainder of the workout.

  • Mountaineer players are scheduled to meet with reporters later Tuesday night, and BlueGoldNews.com will have videos of those interviews and written stories posted in the coming days.

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