Kevin Kinder \

More Notes, Thoughts and Observations From West Virginia's 2016 Spring Football Practice

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. - From across the field, notes large and small from West Virginia's second open practice session of the 2016 spring football season.

West Virginia quarterbacks went through several periods of individual drills focusing on both footwork and mechanics. In the former, they worked on the mesh with running backs, and also on rollouts and sprintouts after taking snaps. There were also numerous ball security drills where managers swiped at the ball, simulating rushers in the pocket, while the QBs also dodged beanbags or markers thrown at the feet. That's all designed to help them “sift through the trash” of the pocket while keeping their eyes downfield.

Many of those drills end up with a throw at a target net, and results continue to be average. On short and intermediate routes, a handful of throws from all competitors were well off the mark. It wasn't awful or bad, but it wasn't at the top of the accuracy charts either.

Cody Saunders got his first exposure in an open session, and he has some solid fundamentals. He flicks the ball out quickly with a sharp wrist snap, and his ball has good zip on it. Quarterbacks graduate assistant Michael Burchett said Saunders was a bit more advanced at this point than either Chris Chugunov or David Sills were a year ago, but there shouldn't be anything read into that comment at this point other than as a compliment to Saunders on his maturity.

Opposite the QBs, assistant coaches Ron Crook and Joe Wickline continued to split the line into different groups. Last week it was outside (Wickline) and inside (Crook) positions teamed out, while this week featured left side and right side working in separate units. All this is designed to build toward better cohesiveness as a full unit, with this early emphasis designed to break down execution into its smallest steps (literally). One false step or wrong move draws correction, and often involves a repeat until it's performed correctly. There was also work done on recognition of defensive line movement and techniques, so that the offensive linemen can react to a specific stunt, twist or gap assignment in order to better execute its own blocks. This work is tedious, for sure, but those players who can master the reads and don't have to think about their first steps or their hand placement have a better chance of success down the road.

The offensive and defensive lines got together for several periods of pass protection work featuring eight on eight (minus the wide receivers, free safety and corners). In this session, Skyler Howard took the snap for a pass play, with full-on contact between the OLine, backs and tight ends versus the DLine, linebackers, spurs and bandits. This provided work on all aspects of pass coverage, but without the actual pass being thrown. That was the only thing held back, however, as the defense threw a number of different blitzes at the offense, which worked on their pickup and protection schemes.

Who won? There were wins from each side, but it seemed like the defense was more consistent in getting pressure, if not actual touches (sacks) before the whistle blew (which signaled the ball coming out). Christian Brown, who has changed his diet over the winter, was particularly impressive in collapsing the pocket. Brown said he has been eating more salads – and dressing them up with some chicken – and says he definitely feels the difference in his body this spring. He feels quicker and more resilient.

The building process from individual positions to unit groups continued on the defensive side, where outside linebackers went through drills where they closed gaps by beating blockers to the spot and jamming them into a hole with an aggressive hit, while middle backers took on blocks and discarded them in the open field. After several run-throughs in different scenarios, all three positions assembled to put the pieces together against different offensive formations.

“Close the hip,” came the call from coach Tony Gibson to one of his charges after he left his inside hip exposed to a potential blocker during one of these sessions – again highlighting the attention being paid to every step and nuance this spring.

While the offense scored but once in a limited set of series featuring 11-on-11 work, the wide receivers were much more dominant in one-on-ones, particularly in the red zone. Ka'Raun White had his way against every defender who went up against him, and Sills used his size to haul in several catches. Elijah Wellman had a nice leaping grab late in practice, and even Skyler Howard had a catch when he snuck into the receiver line during the wind-down portion of practice.

Other than those with excused absences, the injury roll appeared light. Jarrod Harper and Jacob Buccigrossi remain out and limited, respectively, as they will be for the remainder of the spring. Receiver D.L. Knock, who has some nice catches and a TD last week, was in red running the sidelines. Offensive lineman Matt Jones, who suffered a shoulder injury last week, was fully dressed and participated in some portions of the practice. Wide receiver Greg Jennings, who was out the previous week with a wrist injury, also returned to duty.


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