Kevin Kinder \ BlueGoldNews.com

More Observations and Notes from West Virginia's 2016 Spring Football Practices

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. - There's much more to a spring football practice session than just who scored or who made a big hit. We have it covered as we patrol the entire field during West Virginia's most recent Saturday workout.

West Virginia put in a lot of work on kickoff and punt coverage work prior to the 120-plus play session on Saturday, and in those drills there's more to be found than just guys who can get down quickly under a boot. Running backs coach JaJuan Seider noted that the drill, which has one cover man working against two blockers (set up about 20-30 yards apart, followed by a ball carrier), reveals toughness and qualities that play into every aspect of the game.

"That's a great drill," he said. "I love it. It shows who has that toughness, who wants to take on contact, who can get blocks and who can get off them."

Of course, one of the main purposes of the drill is to identify players for the coverage and return teams. Some of those that stood out in the drill were Elijah WellmanShelton GibsonKa'Raun White and David Long, to name a few. It won't be a surprise to see those players in different roles on the punt and kickoff squads in the fall. With emphasis on taking on blocks and either holding them (return team) or getting off them (cover team), big contact and good execution had coaches from Dana Holgorsen on down engaged and either yelling praise or offering critiques. Those plays, and that toughness mentality, also helped set the stage for the extended scrimmage session to come.

* * * * *

Wellman, by the way, catches the ball really well. He's smooth when going after it, and doesn't fight the ball at all. He noted that perhaps his ability as a baseball catcher helped with the hands portion of catching the ball, but he has a fluidity to catching the ball and putting it away that many others don't. 

* * * * *

The controlled scrimmage session saw the offense work from a number of different starting points, ranging from its own two-yard line all the way down to the defense's 25. This gives both sides the chance to work on a specific set of calls and tactics suited for various parts of the field. It also strongly affects statistics, which is one thing that makes numbers a very unreliable judge of success for either side. The offense would be expected to score a good deal on those drives starting in the green zone, while the defense should have the upper hand on those that begin in the shadow of the offense's goal post. The overall takeaway, though, is that both sides had success up and down the field. The second team offense managed a scoring drive that began on its own two, while the defense stopped a couple of possessions that began on the 25.

* * * * *

The offense scored several times on big plays, but the defense had the upper hand in stifling the running game. William Crest was the most effective runner, but both the first and second team defenses did a good job against most running tries. Gap containment by the defense was very good for the most part, and there simply wasn't a great deal of running room for any of the backs. While the passing game was good overall, there are still too many drops on slants. At least for or five very catchable balls hit the turf, leading to expressions of dismay from several quarters. Making those basic pitch and catch plays is vital to offensive continuity, and they can wind up being drive killers when they aren't made.

* * * * *

Crest had several tough runs where he plowed for extra yardage, and also circled the left end late in the day for a score. Chris Chugunov continues to display a very crisp throwing motion and release, but tried to force a couple of throws into windows that just weren't there. Skyler Howard, without question, though, is still the starter. Cody Saunders and Austin Hensley got a couple of series each at the end of practice. David Sills, who was shaken up after taking a big hit, returned to the field at the end of practice sans pads, but with an ice bag on his back, and did not get any QB work. He did have a very nice leaping grab in traffic on a pass from Crest.

* * * * *

After the defense stuffed the twos on a first- and second-down sequence, causing a lot of delays from the offense, Holgorsen observed: "They are dictating the tempo now, not you."

* * * * *

There is a battle developing between Rasul Douglas and Antonio Crawford at cornerback. Crawford seems to be a little more comfortable playing in press coverage, and recovers  perhaps just a bit more quickly. Douglas has great size and leverage, and can dictate against some routes. Assistant coach Blue Adams was watching both intently during the session, and each got appreciable snaps with the first team. Going against Gibson, they were tested deep often. Expect even more competition when another wave of newcomers arrives for fall practice.

* * * * *

The presence of a live DJ at the session, which was commented on in several quarters, is not an every practice occurrence. One veteran player noted "the recruits probably think we have that all the time."

* * * * *

If Sean Walters and Justin Arndt's placement at starting linebacker positions during the spring were made for motivational purposes only, the judgment would have to be made that neither of them got that message. Both are playing solidly, if not spectacularly, and have held down their positions with the first group throughout the 12 sessions to date. Granted, there are many more practices to go before the first game, and some contenders for playing time are still to enroll. It would be a mistake, though, to assume they don't have the chance to hold on to those spot through the fall. That said, David Long is very impressive to watch. A sprained ankle may have kept him out of some first team snaps on Saturday.

* * * * *

Pass protection during the live sessions was improved from a week ago. An admitted focal point this spring, both coaches and linemen noted that there have been a few minor adjustments in schemes and protections, but that most of the work has been on individual technique and execution. After a session indoors a week ago in which the defense won a number of snaps, the offense probably held the edge on this day. There were only a couple of "sacks" whistled during the lengthy 11-on-11 work.

* * * * *

 Wendell Smallwood got in some work on his own at the far end of the practice field, running some routes and catching passes from a non-team member. Terrell Chestnut also stopped in for a look at the day's practice.


BlueGoldNews Top Stories