Critical Spring

Just as no coach ever wants to call a game a "must win" and refuses to label any one game as more important than any other game, a coach does not want to point to a particular season or a particular offseason as being any more critical to a program than any other. But as much as WVU head football coach Rich Rodriguez has tried, it is tough for him to deny that this set of spring football drills, which began last week at Mountaineer Field, could be as big as any spring he has coached.

"This is one of the most important spring practices since I've been here, because of the number of young and new guys who will be playing this year," admitted Rodriguez, who is preparing for his fifth season on the WVU sideline. "Last spring was a lot of fine tuning, but this spring we will have to answer a lot of questions.

"I think that they're all important from a teaching standpoint, but this is probably more important than last spring because of all the new starters we'll have, particularly at key positions. This is the smallest group of seniors that we've ever had, so those guys have to become leaders which is something I'm anxious to see."

Finding leaders and filling positions is always on a coach's mind, but Rodriguez insists that is the No. 2 goal of this spring.

"First, we want to teach a lot of the techniques and fundamentals to the players going through their first spring practice," Rodriguez explained. "There will be a lot of young guys in there, and we need to help them learn the system. We also need to get an idea of who may be on our two deep in the fall and get an idea of who will be the active guys on the team."

The overabundance of youth has also forced Rodriguez to change things up a little. With veterans like Rasheed Marshall and Pacman Jones leading the way last season, the WVU staff had a great opportunity to fine-tune much of what the players had already learned. But without those veterans, Rodriguez's staff has to be sure it does not get ahead of itself.

"I can tell already, particularly offensively, that we'll have to slow our installation down," said Rodriguez after just the first day of drills. "I think we'd probably be going slower anyway with the first few days of spring, because a lot of it is installation, particularly with the guys that don't have a lot of experience."

Although some mistakes in execution are bound to occur, as these new faces adjust to learning the Mountaineer way, Rodriguez says he has been pleased so far with the effort he has seen.

"It was really intense," explained the former WVU defensive back of the first week of practice. "The execution wasn't crisp, but the intensity was really good. As I told our team, if you can run and you can hit good, you've got a chance to win. They'll be sore, but I was really pleased with the effort.

"Guys were eager to get out there after lifting for nine or 10 weeks or so," continued the Grant Town native. "I'm not going to be able to make an evaluation for probably two weeks, but I like what I've seen so far."

Two Mountaineers who have scored high on the early evaluations are running backs Jason Colson and Pernell Williams. Many Mountaineer fans are ready to turn the ball-carrier role next fall over to incoming freshman Jason Gwaltney, but the holdovers at that position are not ready to give up their slots just yet.

"(Jason) had a great winter," explained Rodriguez. "He's bigger, he's stronger, and he's real confident. Pernell Williams had a great winter, too. The goal is for every player to get better every year, and they've certainly done that."

With so much on his mind, it is hard to picture Rodriguez devoting his thoughts to anything but football, but like every Mountaineer, Rodriguez was watching the exploits of the WVU cagers with great pride.

"I'm a basketball fan as well, and I'm excited to see how well they've done," said the WVU graduate. "They are playing together, and they have been successful. I'm excited for John (Beilein) and his staff and players, because it validates what you are doing in your program. Even when they had a bump in the road, they kept doing what got them there. It's a great thing for their team, and they deserve a lot of attention. I am just tickled to death for them."

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