Putting the Pieces Together

Spring football practice is always a time for experiments and change, but how do those come about? Spur and bandit coach Bruce Tall explains how coaches identify candidates for different spots and how that fits into the WVU football philosophy.

As the football coaching staff plans for spring practice, one of the items they usually look at is possible player moves. Assistant coach Bruce Tall took some time to talk with BlueGoldNews.com about the process.

"From a coaching standpoint, we meet often and go through the depth chart and try to find the best pieces to the puzzle," Tall said of the months before spring practice. "We want to make sure we are playing our best players. Sometimes a guy might be stuck behind someone else, but we feel he might be doing things that can help us at another position. So we are always trying to keep our eyes open. We want to be sure that we aren't so structured that a guy can't move, or that he gets pigeonholed at just one spot."

That process fits in nicely with one of WVU's recruiting philosophies, which is that players, with rarre exceptions, should be prospects for at least two different spots. Not only does that give the player and the coaching staff more flexibility to fill holes, but it also makes the process of moving a player to a new spot much easier.

"That's not how you should recruit a guy, so we don't want that to happen once he's on the team," Tall said of putting a player at just one spot and leaving him there no matter what. "If you recruit a guy and think he's just a running back or just a nose guard, then you are missing the boat. We want guys who can play multiple positions, and that helps the whole program."

Once players are on the field, the coaches obviously watch them closely and might be able to see indications where someone might fit better at another position. However, like many other aspects of the game, the real work in deciding such moves often comes courtesy of video.

Tall notes that while watching a player live in practice is important, it's easier to get an overall picture of what a player has to offer by watching tape. The video also gives Tall and his colleagues the chance to see players at other positions, which they often can't do during practice, since they are concentrating on their own charges.

"A lot of looking for possible position moves is on tape. We come in after every practice and review the film from practice and reevaluate it while its still fresh in our minds. Coach Rich Rodriguez watches all of it, so he has to put in some extra time because he watches both sides of the ball," the second-year coach noted. "I am watching my side [the defense], but sometimes I'll see guys on offense on tape, and I can look at them and see if they might fit in at one of my spots. You are always looking around to make sure you have the best guys, and I am always trying to see if there's someone I might be able to grab from another position."

In addition to being on the lookout for possible imports to his spur and bandit spots, Tall has also grown more comfortable in making suggestions to the overall defensive scheme. Although he is a veteran coach with a great deal of experience, Tall admits that there's a certain amount of live learning to be done in order to get familiar with a new scheme and a new staff.

"It's like every defense," Tall noted, who has experience as both a position coach and as a defensive coordinator. "You learn how to fix things faster because you see how people are attacking it, and you get that from seeing the defense and working with it on a consistent basis. You can watch all the tape you want, and you prepare the best you can, but when you are doing it time in and time out you get a better understanding, and that makes it easier to fix things and offer suggestions."

As the coach of WVU's spurs and bandits, Tall has the challenge of preparing players for duty that is part linebacker, part defensive back. A spur might take on a tackle or a fullback in the run game, while a bandit might have to sprint 40 yards to cover a receiver. And although it's not common, the reverse can also happen on occasion.

With that in mind, Tall wants his players to work on mobility and agility most of all. Much of those skills spring from the hips, which serve as the basis for making a cut or a turn, as well as providing power when taking on blockers or making tackles. As a result, Tall works with the WVU skill development staff to emphasize those areas during off-field workouts, while also paying attention to them during position work on the field.

"I really work on the hips with the spurs and bandits," because that's where . I start all my drills off with movement, and I want things to keep them fluid with their hip movement and keep them moving as fast as they can," Tall notes. "I also use the term "come to balance" a lot. That's where you go full speed, come to balance then accelerate and make plays. Those are two big things that we work on, and that I want them to work on in the skill development program.

"A lot of my drills are carryover from my days as a linebacker coach, but then there are some secondary [defensive back] drills that we use too. You have to use them all at this position."

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