West Virginia Focused On Kickoff Return Before Moving To A Situational Series Between The First And Second Teams

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia's latest practice was the very definition of a mixed bag.

If you like special teams and defense, this one was for you. Offensively, it was downright ugly in stretches. The Mountaineers' started in typical fashion, going through a series of team stretch before moving into individual drills prior to special teams. As always, more fumble recovery and ball security drills were the focus, while the quarterbacks and offensive and defensive lines worked independently prior to the special teams session. 

In this practice, unlike the previous two open to media, WVU drilled the kickoff coverage and return teams instead of starting with field goal. The coaching staff put nearly every potential player back deep, including Gary JenningsKennedy McKoyJovon DuranteShelton GibsonKa'Raun WhiteJustin CrawfordMarcus SimmsDravon Askew-Henry and more.

The idea was to see what players were better fits at manning the deepest return slots, along with who would be the immediate blockers in front. The drill was an 11-on-11 sequence in which blocks were engaged, but there was no live tackling to the ground. While there were no major standouts, Gibson reacted well and showed that trademark burst that makes him a big play possibility every time he touches the ball. Jennings also moved well, and appeared fluid on returns, while White's mentality might be best utilized as a third level blocker just ahead of the deepest returners.

The lines, meanwhile, were going through the basics of calls, and what assignments were for each call in a methodical fashion. Both Bruce Tall and Ron Crook were slowing the pace, and providing individualized instruction in reiterating the proper verbiage, initial steps, hand placement, drive and more. The quarterbacks, working at the far end under offensive graduate assistant Michael Burchett - head coach Dana Holgorsen was overseeing the kickoff return drill - went through a series of drills focusing on ball security, progressions and quick delivery of the ball.

The first set saw the signal callers take the snap, step up into the pocket, then secure the ball high and tight while still looking downfield and shuffling their feet as student managers and Burchette slapped at the ball with their hands and a stuffed pad. Burchette signaled which way to shuffle pending pressure, then told the QBs to deliver the ball, which they did into a net. William Crest, as Holgorsen has said, is working full-time at quarterback, and was in the midst of the drills here as well. His ball security was solid, but, like others, a handful of passes sailed a bit. 

The next series called for the quarterbacks to take a series of rapid-fire snaps and quickly turn and deliver the ball down the line, or to a manager running what amounted to a quick slant. It was a quick-hitter drill, and one that focused on the ball getting out of the hands as quickly as possible while maintaining accuracy. By then, it was 20 minutes in to practice and the teams broke into offense and defense for two quick situational scrimmage series. The set-up was the offense taking possession at its own 25-yard line with 1:45 left and a single timeout.

In both the first and second team sessions, the defense was dominant, forcing the offense into four-and-outs each series and controlling the wideouts in the secondary for several coverage sacks. The first team, with Skyler Howard at quarterback, McKoy in the backfield and Gibson, Jennings and Daikiel Shorts at receiver, threw incomplete over the middle on first down before Darrien Howard recorded a "sack." (Play is blown dead prior to any contact with the QBs.) Howard then found White for a solid completion over the middle to set-up fourth down, only to have Tony Gibson's unit halt the drive when Antonio Crawford broke up a pass intended for Jennings.

The interior line remained the same, with Adam Pankey and Kyle Bosch flanking center Tyler Orlosky. But Colton McKivitz manned the right tackle slot, with Yodny Cajuste on the blindside. Defensively, Jon Lewis got a chance alongside Howard and Noble Nwachukwu, with Justin Arndt as the lone true linebacker, as the defense was betting pass and used additional defensive backs.

Kyzir White was at spur, with Jarrod Harper at bandit; Jeremy Tyler was injured, and wore a red "no contact" jersey. Crawford was at right corner, Rasul Douglas at left and Askew-Henry at free safety. Maurice Fleming was inserted on third and fourth downs as a nickle back, and Toyous Avery saw time as well.

The second team offense didn't fare any better. Under the direction of Chris Chugunov, the offense handed to Crawford for a solid chunk on first down before an incompletion on second. Third and short brought a false start that put WVU behind the chains and segued into a coverage sack by Reese Donahue and a dropped pass behind excellent protection on fourth down. It was, to put it mildly, a very poor offensive series, and it sent the teams back into individual drills with Holgorsen quite displeased at his trademark unit.

The line, from left to right, was Sylvester Townes, Grant Lingafelter, center Matt Jones (Tony Matteo injured a knee during individual drills), Rob Dowdy and Marcell Lazard. Crawford was the back, with Jennings, Marcus SimmsDevonte Mathis and Steven Smothers at receiver in the four-wide look. The defense countered with Jeffery Pooler on the right side, Christian Brown at nose (WVU is looking for a reserve there due to multiple injuries) and Donahue on the left.

David Long and Xavier Preston got the outside 'backer nods around Brendan Ferns, with Shane Commodore and what looked to be Dylan Tonkery at the other hybrd safety slot, albeit in a different jersey number than usual. Elijah Battle was at right corner and Nana Kyeremeh at left. Khairi Sharif played free safety.


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