Charleston Practice Notebook

A great turnout in Charleston for WVU's final road show practice reaffirmed that the Capital City remains dominant Mountaineer country.

By far the biggest turnout for any of the open practices to date met West Virginia's football team in Charleston on Saturday. Crowd estimates ranged from 4-5,000, and all were clearly ready for some football, even though it was of the spring variety. The crowd was into the action early, oohing and aahing at several big hits during Oklahoma drills. That certainly set the tone for the day, as big contact ruled through the remainder of the practice session. Among those recording big blasts were safeties Karl Joseph, K.J. Dillon and Jeremy Tyler, the latter of who dispatched running back Dreamius Smith to the locker room after a massive hit in the middle of the field. Smith walked to the bus under his own power after practice, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see him miss Sunday's practice after the near-knockout blow.

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Other big smacks on the day included linebacker Dayron Wilson, who blew up his opposition during coverage pursuit work and Sean Walters, who met a back in the hole and plastered him for no gain.

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Dustin Garrison was something of a feature back through several offensive possessions, and he responded well. He finished runs strongly and broke tackles to gain additional yardage, and also scored on a pair of possessions late in the scrimmage. The crowded backfield is a nice problem to have, and Garrison certainly showed he's not going to give up playing time without a fight. He was also a standout in pre-scrimmage drills, as he threw several impressive blocks and avoided or ran through opponents on punt coverage pursuit.

Rushel Shell again was impressive. His deceptive style makes it look at times, as if he's just cruising, but that's not the case. He makes defenders miss, and also shows power when in traffic. His stop-and-start move set him up for a lengthy run early in the scrimmage. Wendell Smallwood led the way in physical play for the offense as he absolutely ran over Edward Muldrow for extra yards, leaving the juco defender lying on the turf.

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One of the few group drills run was special teams coverage pursuit, where candidates for the punt and kickoff coverage teams tried to avoid two blockers spaced at different levels across the field, then closed on a third blocker that had to be shed before getting to the ball carrier. With this drill, special teams coach Joe DeForest hopes to identify players that can either run around or play through blocks and continue West Virginia's improvement on the coverage teams.

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Quarterback play was decent. Paul Millard was steady and avoided big mistakes in the passing game. Skyler Howard held the ball too long on several occasions, one of which was ruled an end zone sack by Christian Brown. After a third such occurrence during the controlled scrimmage work, he was removed from his series immediately and counseled by offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson.

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The defensive line generated some good pressure on its own without the benefit of blitzes. In addition to Brown, Noble Nwachukwu was in the backfield on several plays, earning a couple of sacks and batting down a screen pass. Eric Kinsey also brought some heat, and forced a couple of quick passes and dumpoffs. Backup nose tackle Darrien Howard also got into the pressure act, forcing a scramble and an incompletion by getting around his opponent quickly.

The pressure up front was complemented by some good coverage in the secondary. At least two of the sacks were caused by a blanketing of receivers. Cornerbacks Ishmael Banks and Brandon Napoleon were both visible, with the latter defending well on a pair of back pylon throws in the end zone. He nearly picked off one and broke up another. Free safety Jeremy Tyler also had a great break on a route over the middle, nearly intercepting another pass.

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Wide receiver continues to be something of a mixed bag. Jacky Marcellus continues to show potential. He works the middle well from his slot position, and might get a look on the jet sweep play. Devonte Mathis had several solid catches, including a great stretch down the sideline for a 31-yard score. However, there's still not enough aggressiveness in going after the ball when it's not right on target, and the receivers running the ball on ends around can't stop or juke as the play develops.

On the plus side, the B Backs have shown productivity in the passing game. At various points in the spring, Cody Clay, Garrett Hope and Elijah Wellman have all gotten downfield and made good catches. On Saturday, Wellman was the focus, and he came up with a pair of nice grabs for first downs.


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