A first look at West Virginia’s spring drills highlighted the session at Shepherd University on Saturday. Here’s a look at some observations and insights from the drills, including individual match-ups and total team and unit work.
First, West Virginia’s effort was solid. The drills crisp and fast-paced and the execution...well, it lacked at times. There were multiple drops on punt return, poorly hit punts, some errant throws by the quarterbacks and a handful of drops by wideouts with passes that landed between the numbers. But those are aspects that should improve as drill progress; remember, this was just the third practice in pads for the Mountaineers this spring, and there’s a certain amount of the proverbial rust that will continue to flake off over the next week.
Arguably the most consistently top end aspect of WVU’s drills is that they absolutely squeeze the max reps out of each player. The coaching staff rolls players in and out of drills constantly, and has tweaked a few to ensure even greater reps in limited time. For example, last season receivers coach Lonnie Galloway and running backs coach JaJuan Seider would throw to their players individually. This time, the skill set players joined in the same drill, making a circular motion as the coaches threw passes to them. It kept the drill line moving, and allowed the team not to have to re-set and line up again, but rather continue in their circle for a more fluid experience. Think roundabout as opposed to stop signs or lights; one gets far more numbers through in the same time than another.
William Crest’s should looks to be 100 percent. The quarterback’s passes had excellent spin and location, and are fired from such a high, over-the-head style that it will make it difficult to be knocked down by the line. Of note is that the quarterback lines have expanded considerably from the time when assistant coaches had to throw passes so the wideouts could get enough work in. Now, WVU has six quarterbacks working on the patterns, meaning six wideouts are also making reads, recognizing defenses/patterns and working through their progressions.
WVU finally went ones vs ones in the run game in session 15 – about 90 minutes – into practice. Howard was with the first team, along with Wendell Smallwood and Rushel Shell in running a lot of zone read. There were a few power sets mixed in, with Cody Clay again lining up as a fullback and in the two and four back sets as well as out as a flex or tight end. The vast majority of Elijah Wellman’s snaps came from purely the fullback slot.
Holgorsen noted that he was pleased with the technique changes along the defensive line made by first-year assistant Bruce Tall. Tall, who coached safeties at WVU from 2003-07 previously, was largely hired due to his relationship to Tony Gibson and his intimate knowledge of the 3-3-5 and its trench principles. Tall has made immediate changes to technique, and Holgorsen noted that nose Kyle Rose looks like a new player. The line performed well against WVU’s offensive counterparts, but it should be noted that the offense has again moved players into new positions, and the timing and ability to play together typically take a longer time to jell into a complete unit.
Tyler Orlosky continues to impress. Besides looking a touch bigger and just as cut, Orlosky’s technique and ability to control an interior defensive lineman remain impressive. The biggest jump Orlosky must make this season is going from being aided by a pair of experienced guards in terms of play calls last season to becoming the primary player to recognize opposing fronts and alignments and get West Virginia set into its own call. There’s no doubt, though, that Orlosky is among the best centers in recent West Virginia history, probably dating to Dan Mozes. And that this point in both of their careers, one could argue Orlosky is further along. After all, he hasn’t come within one more bad snap of being pulled, as Mozes was against Maryland in 2005 before he turned it on to win the Rimington Award as the nation’s best at the position.
At least one, and perhaps all, of the following three statements are true: JuCo transfer Larry Jefferson has a solid burst off the ball and a nice rip move to get into the backfield. WVU’s tackles must move better laterally and within their first step to counter. And, third, both have technique work to do to truly excel at the Big 12 level, though Jefferson was certainly impressive in some rush drills.
Skyler Howard took a series of sacks he was unlikely to in a game. Perhaps it was the lack of a threat to be hit, or trying to make too much happen downfield instead of hitting the check down or first available receiver to get open, but Howard routinely lost yardage – and it wasn’t because the refs blew the whistle early. It was such an issue last season that Holgorsen allowed the quarterbacks to be hit, called “going live” during practices just so they would better feel that sense of urgency. That doesn’t necessarily have to be the case just yet here, as this was just the third day in pads. But Howard has to make the decision and not try to make the perfect play. Sometimes, three to five yards is just fine.
Because of that, and an inability to must much on first and second downs, WVU’s offense was continually behind the chains. The defense was able to get into a pass rushing mode, and consequently really limited the pass game during the drills. Multiple fumbles also contributed, as well as solid linebacker play that cleaned up what the defensive line couldn’t bottle. In the battle of the backs and the linebackers, the Mountaineer defense was dominant.
Several assistants from Shepherd and other Division II area schools watched the drills, with the Shepherd coaches in the booth. It was interesting to hear their takes on West Virginia’s schemes and play selection, as well as practice set-up and the Mountaineers’ ability to maximize drills. The staff seemed to take particular note of the fast pace of both drills and the scrimmage sessions, and the equipment used, with one often noting that he’d like to have similar access to such. WVU’s five DB formation on the defensive side, when it appears as though the Mountaineers had five DBs playing a fifth of the field – or one more than quarters coverage – drew interest, as the coaches tried to guess which player or players weren’t in actual zone coverage.