The new surface on the practice field is getting excellent reviews. One West Virginia Mountaineers staffer told me that slips have been minimal, and that was also the case during Saturday's session. We saw a couple of players go down, but no more than you would see in an average game on any surface. Also, the practice field is graded with the same crown that the new field will have in the stadium, so there's no difference going between one and the other. The crown on the practice field is very slight – just enough to encourage drainage to the sides, but you have to really concentrate to see it. Good reviews also come from the players, who seemed universally pleased with the revamped practice area. Seemingly small items, like a covered station for water and first looks at injuries are also nice additions.
The new defensive secondary coaches have brought a lot of new drills with them, and many are targeting correct technique and relating that to game movement and activity. We'll have more on that with our in-depth interview with Blue Adams, but three is a lot of emphasis on this. Matt Caponi rolls a large ball at safeties to simulate an approaching cut blocker, and the safety has to fend that off while moving through bags, then identify a ballcarrier and get to him. Adams, while working on backpedaling, made sure the corners were doing so in a straight line unless a weave was called for, and pushed them to be consistent in their stride length and balance.
Suspended wide receiver Jovon Durante was on the field for the practice. Although he didn't dress or participate, he listened to the coaching provided by head coach Dana Holgorsen. Maybe that's not a huge item, but it does show he's still invested in what's going on.
I hate to overhype players, and Kennedy McKoy is already getting plenty of love. But his trucking of safety Khairi Sharif was just as impressive as the 40-yard burst he had during two-minute drill work. Sharif was sent off the field to undergo concussion protocols – a nice demonstration that the WVU staff is taking this very sensitive topic seriously.
William Crest ran with the ball, both on designed runs and after short receptions, better than he has shown in games. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come. He made a couple of nice moves in the open field to maximize yardage, and had a great stiff-arm that opened up extra yardage on another. I don't see him running the ball a lot out of a RB set, because WVU has other guys to do that, but he filled the “slash” role very well, during the drills. Some of that may be due to the situation – it was all two-minute stuff so the defense was laying back a bit. We're looking forward to seeing him in that role in a regular offensive sequence, as he appeared to be much more comfortable and in command during his time on the field last Saturday.
There was also a good bit of work in groups of twos and threes – kind of a bridge between individual drills and one-on-ones up through seven-on-seven. Assistant coach Joe Wickline had tackles and tight ends working on combination blocks, and correct steps to initiate them. Wide receivers and backs worked on wide receiver screens, with three receivers vs. three defenders. The defensive line and linebackers were also in that multi-mode, with work done on the correct techniques for getting off blocks and filling gaps against the run.
Quarterback Chris Chugunov impresses. His mechanics appeared very good. His accuracy was lid, and he hit D.L. Knock for the only TD in a four-series two-minute drill session early in practice. (Knock looks good too, but he faces an uphill battle for time in the slot with Daikiel Shorts there and William Crest grabbing some snaps at the position also.) But back to Chugunov. Does he have the chance to mount a challenge to Skyler Howard? If, and this is a big if, he is doing the same things in all the practices that he did on Saturday, then he deserves a look. Note that is not the same thing as saying that he should be the starter. There are other things to consider at quarterback as well. If Crest continues to shine in his role, that opens a bit of a path for Chugunov, but the backup spot won't be given to him either.