WVU Spring Football Notebook

West Virginia completed its second open spring football practice session over the weekend under flawless sunny skies in Morgantown. While Daikiel Shorts' performance at receiver was a highlight of the afternoon, there were a number of other items of import on display.

The move of Shorts to outside receiver earlier in the week has clearly paid quick dividends. The versatile passcatcher nabbed several balls, primarily on mid-range crossing routes and timing patterns to the far reaches of the end zone, and was the most consistent performer at the position. His presence there highlights a couple of items:
1) No other receiver is making a firm claim on an outside spot. Shelton Gibson is the best at getting open, but continues to be plagued by dropped balls. K.J. Myers and Davonte Mathis must improve on getting open. Lamar Parker and Ricky Rogers have ability, but must develop trust with the quarterbacks while improving their consistency.
2) If no one else takes the proverbial step up, West Virginia's passing attack will have an even heavier dependence on inside receivers and running backs. While those didn't get a ton of looks on Saturday, players such as Wendell Smallwood, Rushel Shell, Jacky Marcellus, Cody Clay and Elijah Wellman could all play roles.
3)While those are certainly not options to ignore, they don't fill the downfield void felt at wideout. Without field stretchers, WVU's offense becomes compressed and easier to defend.

The battle at tackle between Russell Haughton-James and Yodny Cajuste continues, with the latter holding down first team snaps on this day. Our Greg Hunter likes Cajuste's ability to move and overall physical attributes, all of which give him a chance to be a good tackle. However, he's still young, and clearly needs more work on consistency in technique, such as in hand positioning and initial steps. Haughton-James impresses with his enthusiasm to do whatever is needed, and said that if he doesn't win the battle there, he can play at guard or at tight end as an extra block as he did at times in 2014. That's a great attitude, and one that has to help the team no matter how this contest shapes up.

Tony Matteo shows a lot of improvement at guard, and along with Adam Pankey on the other side should make the Mountaineers solid again up the middle. That's going to be important, as is conditioning, because there still appears to be a fair gap between the first teamers and the backups.

Donte Thomas-Williams showed no ill effects from the leg injury that slowed him earlier this spring. He had a catch out of the backfield and a scoring run to account for all 30 yards in one offensive series. He's not going to replace Rushel Shell, but his presence could allow Wendell Smallwood to be used more in other roles. Could there be a few formations that would allow all three to be on the field at once?

Punt returns were better this week than last, with improved catching all around. To be fair, some of the issues last week were caused by the punters themselves, who hit a few bad balls that weren't catchable. The goal for now is to have returners make good judgments on balls in the air early, and get a better jump on them. In many ways, doing so is like playing an outfield position in baseball. Those who are adept at reading the ball off the bat get better starts and catch more -- the same is true for punt returners who can quickly see how the ball came off the foot of the punter.

Defensive lineman Tyree Owens has a good "Oklahoma" drill session. He discarded blockers quickly and got to the ballcarrier on several occasions. Overall, this session was very spirited, with several big hits drawing support from teammates and coaches.

While the defense was disappointed with its performance in the 11-on-11 session, the secondary had a number of good moments in skeleton drills. Nana Kyeremeh and Ricky Rumph broke up multiple passes, closed on the ball well and generally had the upper hand during these sessions.

The absence of Kyle Rose, while certainly not a good thing, did allow down other defensive linemen to get more snaps. Christian Brown and Noble Nwachukwu missed scrimmage action, and the youngsters had respectable showings in their absence. Darrien Howard and Eric Kinsey had very solid days, and Jaleel Fields showed promise as well. Jon Lewis also had a couple of stops in a backup role.

We've discussed the turnover circuit a couple of times this spring, but protection and stripping aren't the only drills involved. Linemen, both offensive and defensive, work on recovering fumbles during the same periods.


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