West Virginia Opened Its 2016 Fall Camp Tuesday With A Nonpadded - Yet Spirited - Session

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia opened its fall camp with the first of three nonpadded practices on Tuesday, getting in both individual and team work with an emphasis on special teams early.

The Mountaineers, looking to rebuild the back end of the defense and add key pieces on offense and in the special teams game, got right into work on the latter, moving straight to field goals and punt work after its initial stretch. While head coach Dana Holgorsen gave updates - including that sophomore defensive lineman Jaleel Fields would miss the entire season and that he believed his wideouts might be the fastest he has coached - WVU started the practice with a series of field goals by Mike Molina and Josh Lambert. Molina hit all four of his tries (the longest from 45 yards) while Lambert was equally as accurate on a handful of kicks.

Molina appeared comfortable, and the exchange between snapper, holder and kicker went off well, which is imperative with a series of first time starters at each position after the departure of John DePalma, Nick O'Toole and the three-game suspension of Lambert. The Mountaineers then moved to punt and punt coverage, where Jonn Young battled Billy Kinney while Gary Jennings, Maruc Simms and William Crest took the majority of the return reps. Jennings looked especially smooth and comfortable handling a series of kicks, while Young often tried to showcase his leg strength rather than the direction kick the drills called for.

Kinney's handful of punts were largely well place, and the state native was able to create a tight spiral and turn the ball over midflight for maximum distance when called upon. This will be an ongoing battle throughout the fall, and one which will decide who replaces O'Toole.

The Mountaineers then moved to individual drills, with the defense focusing on ball security. The line, linebackers, safeties and corners all ran through the same three drills which called for a series of approaches to securing loose balls. On one, players attempted to strip the ball from teammates before recovering it. On another, a tackling dummy was used, with players "stripping" the ball, which was then tossed on the ground by line coach Bruce Tall for the recovery and return upfield. A third had players simply sliding or diving for loose balls, with coordinator Tony Gibson instructing on proper technique and to curl the body around the football.

The offensive line drilled under the eye of Ron Crook and Joe Wickline, while the skill position players ran through a series of drills focusing on, again, ball security both on handoffs and during receptions. The quarterbacks, meanwhile, were hidden away in the Caperton Indoor Practice Facility during the 30-minute media time, and thus there were no film, pictures or available updates.

Holgorsen mentioned that, after Rushel Shell and Kennedy McKoy, which are the 1-2 punch at running back, junior college transfer Justin Crawford has moved ahead of Martell Pettaway, which was expected. That battle will be among the most interesting in camp on the offensive side, as it mixes veteran skill and experience against the quick twitch young talent. The same could be said of receiver, though there will be far more reps to go around at that position, in which as many as five are on the field at one time.

The receivers as a whole looked more bulky than they did last season, with Jovon Durante having added weight and Ka'Raun White primed for what is expected - perhaps unfairly so - to be a breakout season. But the depth and breadth of skill there is proven. The real battles,  the ones key for the season, will be on the defense, especially at linebacker and corner, where the Mountaineers need a handful of players to emerge, especially in the depleted secondary. And while thus far we haven't gotten any looks outside of individual drills, the additions of Elijah Battle and Mike Daniels figure to at least challenge returning players like Rasul Douglas, Nana Kyeremeh and Antonio Crawford.

Check out the running backs drill, above, as overseen by position coach JaJuan Seider, and our other content from today including the interview session with Holgorsen and more looks at individual and team drills.


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