First, the juxtaposition of what coaches take out of practice varies pending perspective. Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said he believes his first-team line performed well against the Mountaineer defense. Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said he felt the same about his defense against the first team line. So which is correct? Likely both. Dawson's offense did move the ball effectively, but the Mountaineers did not, as he said in a video, score each time the first team line was on the field. Gibson's defense, meanwhile, tended to get the better along the goal line. But one should consider, as Cody Clay noted, that the defense was scheming a bit more against the offense, where the offense was simply executing base fronts and blocking assignments.
So, it's entirely possible that both coordinators got much of what they wanted out of the session. Dawson should also continue to be pleased with the majority of the decision making by quarterback Skyler Howard. The junior college transfer went through his progressions effectively and didn't hold the ball as long as veteran Paul Millard. Howard's delivery continued to be crisp and consistent, and he again showcased pocket feel and movement and the ability to extend plays. The best quarterback run of the afternoon, however, belonged to back-up Logan Moore, who took off around the left end and outran a pair of defensive backs – who, in fairness, never quite had the appropriate angle – for a score.
Moore struggled on some out throws, but did manage a series of TD passes over the middle between defenders. Howard had arguably the best touch pass of the day, lofting a gorgeous 45-yard arc to a streaking Mario Alford. Corner Nana Kyeremeh closed at the last second, however, and the 50-50 ball fell incomplete. Millard, too, had his moments. The senior whistled a ball down the hash between a pair of defenders to wideout K.J. Myers for an impressive score. The throw, timed perfectly, was right on target, and Myers waltzed in after securing the bullet.
Myers was matched against Icky Banks quite often, and the two battled throughout the sessions in a series of skeleton and full squad square-offs. Neither gained a major edge, but Myers seemed to struggle getting off the line against when Banks was in press coverage and goal line, while Banks couldn't quite stick with the wideout in the open field.
WVU's offensive line showed solid pass protection, giving the quarterbacks at least adequate time on most snaps. There were a few miscommunications and some issues with false starts and offsides. But, as line coach Ron Crook noted, that's easily addressed as long as the players recognize cadence and snap count. Arguably the most damaging penalty was an encroachment call on the defense on a fourth down field goal attempt that gave the offense a first down. Crook only expressed major displeasure once, when he threw his hat after multiple defenders overwhelmed the left side of the line for a solid loss.
Among the more refined aspects of Howard's play is the in-head clock. The ball, as mentioned above, gets out quickly, and he'll go to his check down much faster than Millard or Moore. That might sacrifice a big play if a wideout suddenly breaks open late, as the ball from Howard will be gone. But it also eliminates the sack issues Millard had at times. Howard dumps the ball well, and his passes, like Millard's, have reasonable touch in the short range game. Howard did, however, float a couple longer passes, one of which sailed especially long and was picked by Ricky Rumph in the back of the end zone.
In the backfield, Dreamius Smith continued to showcase his development in hitting the line much harder than he did last season, and quickly getting into the crease, then hitting the outside with one cut and go, or bursting vertically into the next level. Smith is using far fewer steps, and that's making defensing the 5-11, 224-pounder much more effective. Rushel Shell ran hard, but didn't break many big plays, while Wendell Smallwood was steady. Cody Clay showed excellent ability to create a big target in the passing game, then secure the ball for a score between two defenders.
The intensity was solid, for the most part, with a handful off scraps and pushing matches, but that's often a healthy thing. Camp isn't quite to where teammates are absolutely sick of hitting each other, but when one squares off often against the same foes, little chippy things that didn't bother in week one begin to turn into badgering issues in latter weeks.
Among the lesser expected developments was the ability of mike linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton to knife through protection and blocking sets and make a handful of players. The redshirt freshman won't be able to challenge junior Nick Kwiatkoski's skillset and nose for the ball quite yet, but Benton, at a well-built 6-0 and 238 pounds, is showcasing future promise. Tony Gibson's unit, as a whole, seemed to move to the ball well and was able to secure a series of sacks and tackles for loss. The defense swarm tackled, but often couldn't bring ball carriers to the turf in one-on-one. That's not a huge concern, however, as the 3-4 is schemed to free all players to get to the ball as soon as possible, and rarely did a back break off extended extra yardage after initial contact.
The backfield ran well, but, along with the linebackers, did get beat down the seams at times. Run support was solid, though the offense was able to seal the interior and gain an edge around the outside on a handful of rushes. Overall, it was largely a stalemate, and both coordinators seemed pleased. West Virginia will hold closed practice sessions Tuesday and Thursday this upcoming week, then hold an open practice at Charleston's Laidley Field starting 12:45 p.m. The public is invited.