First up, WVU works through what has become a staple of its initial sets in both the fall and spring in turnover drills. The Mountaineer defensive line, above, works on initially securing the tackle, then having the second defender to the play rip at the ball and recover the fumble. The ideal that this was an initial implementation to the practices come about more than a year ago, when West Virginia chose to place even greater emphasis on creating turnovers and, on the offensive side, attempting to lessen or eliminate them.
As defensive coordinator Tony Gibson has often noted, turnovers are in parts chance, with the way the ball bounces contributing to the ratio. But what can be controlled is the effort and technique utilized to force the strip initially, and that's an aspect that has gained great focus for the defense over the last dozen-plus months. West Virginia has differed in how it has created turnovers, being nearly what one would consider devoid of such during portions of Gibson's tenure, and then, like last season, recording a multitude of interceptions at times as well. There can be little questioning the focus, however, as these drills have stated every open media session seen, both this spring and last fall as well.
The Mountaineers have typically followed that first set of drills with special teams work, be it field goal unit, as shown in our premium practice notebook here, or with getting a proper fit and alignment in both the coverage and return segments of practice. Below, check out first-year assistant Doug Belk, the corners coach, as he instructs on angles and pursuit of the ball carrier, while receivers coach Tyron Carrier instructs the opposing side. Overseen by Gibson, the session focused on all the above, while also giving an initial glimpse into the coaching style of Belk, a former Alabama defensive graduate assistant who has seen the other side of the ball as a quarterback in his playing days at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tenn.
Belk began his coaching career in his hometown of Valdosta, Ga., at Valdosta State as a defensive assistant and special teams coach for one season in 2011 before moving to the secondary for two years as the mentor of the entire backfield in 2012 and '13. Highly recommended by state native and Alabama head coach Nick Saban, Belk has made a seemingly seamless transition to West Virginia, and made a major impact on Gibson during the interview process, when Gibson highlighted both his disposition and ability to relate to recruits as a younger coach, as well as his knowledge of Xs and Os.
Keep an eye on Belk, at the far left of the screen wearing a blue Flying WV cap, gray pullover and gold shorts, as he instructs regarding fit and angles, as well as the direction of the ball carrier while the Mountaineers attempt to get vertical, then breakdown into proper lanes and assignments while keeping contain. Also check out his hand placement instruction, and ability to dissect issues with set-ups upon the first foray to the ball.