Wheeling Notebook

Notes, thoughts and observations from West Virginia's football practice in Wheeling.

When evaluating players and action on the field, many observers simply look at the 11-on-11 portions of practice. That only tells part of the story, however. Drills and individual position work are just as important in determining the progress and abilities of players, so we fanned out across the field and to different locations in the stands to gather as much information as possible.

The first, and best example of this, is the evaluation of Skyler Howard at quarterback. By his own admission, the juco transfer didn't have a great day, making a couple of bad decisions and struggling to get the offense into a good flow. However, watching him during drills shows countering positives. His footwork is very good, as he shows good balance in rush avoidance drills. When throwing on the run, he loads everything up evenly, and transitions quickly into his throwing motion. His accuracy is good, and he gets the ball out of his hands quickly when he throws it.

Does this mean he's the starter? Not yet. But anyone saying that he was a disappointment is jumping the gun.

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Walk-on QB Storm McPherson, who was requested for an interview but denied by WVU, stands tall in the pocket and throws a very nice ball. His release is very much a three-quarters motion, which negates some of his height, but he has a nice spiral and can zip it.

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Both Cody Clay and Garrett Hope had a couple of nice grabs in drills and in shell passing work. There shouldn't be any hesitancy about throwing either the ball during a game.

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Players sitting out all or part of the practice included Clint Trickett, Jared Barber, Wes Tonkery, Tyler Tezeno, Jordan Thompson, Jewone Snow and Sean Walters. The first four of that list will miss all or most of the spring.

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There's an emphasis on improving the athleticism of the defensive line. Assistant coach Tom Bradley noted that in his first public interview of the spring, highlighting the importance of mobility for the three-man front. To that end, several bag drills were run during individual sessions, with the linemen working through full size tackling dummies, then high-stepping up and down the line over bags on the ground before rallying to the ball.

Judging progress in this area will be something to watch this spring and fall. Eric Kinsey has very good feet, and he, along with Dontrill Hyman (who played on the second team for most of the day) were mobile and active. Darrien Howard, with a linebacking background, should also be able to develop there. Outside that, WVU's linemen aren't brimming with speed, so they will have to rely on toughness and savvy to make the Mountaineers a success. If all follow the work example of Kyle Rose, that can happen.

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Fun position stuff: Michael Molinari ran some routes with wide receivers during drills. No, he's not going to play there. But given his statement, via head coach Dana Holgorsen, that he's going to do everything he can to help his team, it was nice to see. Houstin Syvertson went through all drills with the linebackers. Also, during one period of offensive shell drills, offensive linemen took turns lining up on defense to provide different looks for their counterparts. Massive Michael Calicchio made the biggest spur in Mountaineer history, spreading his 6-8 frame across one side of the field.

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Wide receiver continues to be a mixed bag. The vast majority of receivers don't go up and high-point the ball during drills, and if you aren't doing it in practice, you aren't going to do it in games. Ricky Rogers was one exception, grabbing a pair of passes in the back of the end zone with well-timed leaps. Kevin White and Mario Alford dominated during blocking in the Oklahoma drill, and carried that out onto the field. Throwing a handful of big hits to spring runners. Jacky Marcellus has a chance to break into the rotation. His cuts in and out of routes are tough to cover, and he runs with a bounce that make him very elusive.

Lonnie Galloway continues to coach his receivers aggressively, and it's clear he believes they still have a long way to go. Alford, White, Daikiel Shorts, Marcellus and Rogers were the best on the this day, but there were still too many drops across the board for his liking.

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Sylvester Townes is the most slender-looking 285-pounder you've ever seen. He ran with the twos on the offensive line, and shows respectable movement, but needs to get bigger and stronger in the upper body if he's to challenge for a starting job.

While most of the focus on the offensive line came in the 11-on-11 sessions, we took time to eyeball them in individual and in one-on-ones. A great deal of attention is being paid to technique, with hand placement, driving out of the initial contact point and footwork highlighting many drills.

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Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson made it a point to check in with every position group during individual work, but spent the most time with the linebackers and new assistant Damon Cogdell.

"I want to make sure I stay in touch with all of them," Gibson said after the two-plus hour workout.


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