The Crimson Tide, long hailed for both their recruiting prowess and grinding style of play, differs from WVU in one key area of a blue collar approach, according to the former Alabama defensive graduate assistant and first-year West Virginia cornerbacks coach. The Mountaineers are more physical.
"Here the biggest thing is the physicality of practices," Belk said. "It's a lot different for me. The first day we were in full pads, we hit the field, live drills and getting after it. The energy in practice has been good. For me that's different coming from a place where we didn't tackle in practice, only in scrimmage-type situations. Putting the guys in game situations from the start is good, I think, and it will be helpful."
The statement is a bit of an eye-opener, if only because Alabama is well-known as perhaps the most physical of teams nationally. The Tide loves the power run and possesses both the size and stature on the defensive side to control most foes. It's made its trademark under Nick Saban as primarily a gritty team before expanding into the spread and defensive sets to match more recently. In bringing a physical mentality each day, the Mountaineers are establishing a mentality and style of play that head coach Dana Holgorsen says his most successful of teams has possessed.
"It's a culture that coach Holgorsen has set that now all the guys are expecting," said Belk, a native of Valdosta, Ga., who played quarterback at Carson-Newman before coaching at Valdosta State and Alabama. "So when they go to practice, they are looking to compete in every drill, finish every drill and obviously work on the skills you need in different type situations."
WVU is through six spring practices thus far, and will hold its seventh today, reaching approximately the halfway point before the Gold-Blue Spring Game on April 15. With rebuilds along both lines, and a need for Belk to identify depth at corner behind listed starters Mike Daniels and Elijah Battle, the Mountaineers have impressed upon the players the need to showcase their toughness and fortitude. That then sets the tone for both the summer workouts and the initial fall sessions, when some of the more physical aspects of play will be harnessed as the opener approaches.
"We have had a lot of good days, done some good things," said Belk of his primary goal of developing consistency. "Going to practice every day with the goal in mind (to get better). Trying to clean up the mistakes from before and not making the same mistake twice."
Belk has said his initial experiences at West Virginia, and delving into the background and history of the program, have been exceptional. The first-year assistant has also gotten a positive reaction in recruiting, where he says the Mountaineers have continued to chase the nation's best players. West Virginia has offers out to a number of elite level 2018 prospects, including corners A.J. Lytton, a Scout.com four-star player out of Upper Marlboro, Md., and Jairus Brents, a four-start player from Louisville, Ky. Both also have Alabama offers.
"I've gotten a good reception," Belk said. "We have some offers out to really good players, and they seem excited. It's been a good response. Now we see if we can get some and get this thing rolling. (Saban) always told me the good news is the people of West Virginia are great. Hard-working. The bad news is I wouldn't have his old high school to recruit anymore."