Special Teams Dominate Day Six

The sixth day of spring practice began and ended with an emphasis on special teams, but it was an uneventful day as the West Virginia University football team approaches its first full-scale intrasquad scrimmage Saturday.

After spending the first portion of practice on field goals, extra points and live special teams situations, the team broke off into positions for individual drills and instruction.

In 11-on-11 drills, Rayshawn Bolden continued to display vast improvement as a possession receiver, making a plethora of difficult catches in traffic. Bolden has emerged as the leader of the inexperienced wide receiver corps so far, showing that the long reception he had in the waning moments of the Gator Bowl was no fluke.

Dwayne Thompson, as noted in previous practice reports, has a firm grip on the quarterback job at this point, but without the services of Adam Bedarik, it would be premature to consider Thompson a front-runner for the job. Thompson, however, showed an uncanny ability to deliver the ball accurately on the run and on roll-out passes, and a deft touch on long balls.

"I think Dwayne Thompson is shaking the rust off and doing okay," head coach Rich Rodriguez said.

Thompson's chief spring competition for reps, Pat White, is improving but still showing signs that he is merely a freshman competing for a starting job.

"Pat White is doing some good things too, but they both have a lot way to go and we know that," Rodriguez said.

White and his center had some problems on snaps, and he was intercepted by Akeem Jackson on a routine screen play. Jackson leaped out of nowhere to practically take the ball out of White's hands on the play.

Walk-on fullback Owen Schmitt continued to look impressive as both a blocker and ballcarrier, routinely running right through the heart of the defense and bruising tacklers downfield.

"Owen Schmitt has turned our heads this spring. He's a guy that's proven he can play a little bit," Rodriguez said. "I really like the way Mike Villagrana has come on as a tight end, and it looks like he will be a solid performer there."

Villagrana caught a couple of passes and has shown good blocking skills as well.


Rodriguez ended practice by having his kickers attempt field goals from varying distances while the whole team huddled around and watched. A made field goal would result in an eruption from the team, but a miss and the team made the kickers feel the heat. Perhaps that will work at making the kicker's more effective in game situations.

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The practice concluded with defensive back Mike Lorello booting an extra point, and after a few misses, successfully converting a 30-yard field goal.

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Rodriguez scoffed at the notion that his team would have a different set of expectations, considering the two defections to the NFL Draft and the loss of several key seniors. West Virginia will also be relying on a number of freshman and sophomores as they compete in the new Big East.

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"Our goal is to always win the Big East championship first and foremost, and then compete at the highest level nationally," Rodriguez said. "That's been our goal from year one, and we've got a share of it the last couple years, so our expectations will not be any lower even though this will be the youngest team we've had in a couple years."

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Still, the fifth-year head coach noted that he is slowing things down this spring in deference to his inexperienced squad.

"This is the least experienced team we've had. Certain things are established, so it's not as difficult from that standpoint, but we have a lot of youth, which is forcing us to be patient."

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Rodriguez was also pleased with the progress of the linebacking corps, although depth is still a major concern.

"Boo (Kevin McLee) is playing well, and so is Jay Henry," Rodriguez noted. "Marc Magro has made some steps, and Mortty Ivy is showing some flashes of what he can do."

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The next practice session is scheduled for Friday, with a scrimmage to follow on Saturday if weather allows.

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