Facing Challenges

Wide receivers coach Butch Jones has some big challenges facing him, but the newest member of the Mountaineer staff is taking it one step at a time.

Jones, who replaced Steve Bird earlier this year, isn't in the most enviable of positions in his first season at WVU. Coaches new to a job must build new relationships with their fellow staff members, learn how everything works in the new program, and get comfortable with the way things are run. Many coaches say it takes at least a season to achieve all that, so the first year on a new job is often a stressful time.

Compounding Jones' task is the lack of experience in his group of wideouts. Brandon Myles, Rayshawn Bolden and Joe Hunter all got game action in 2004, but the production was nowhere near what the Mountaineer staff was hoping for. As a result, Jones will be under the gun to produce a unit that can provide targets for a new quarterback and take some of the pressure off what figures to be a stout running attack.

That one-two punch might have some coaches running around pulling their hair out, but Jones takes it all in stride. Watch him work with his charges during spring practice or with high schoolers during the camp season, and there's no sign of panic. He calmly dispenses instruction and corrects mistakes while keeping an eye on every player as they run through drills.

The receiving corps is out of Jones' direct control right now as they go through summer conditioning and voluntary workouts, but he trusts that the work they are doing will produce positive results.

"Their overall strength and conditioning, speed and footwork are the things they can improve most upon during the summer," Jones said during a recent camp. "Really, they can work on all the intangibles that go into playing the receiver position."

Without direct supervision during these sessions, there might seem to be cause for concern that players begin incorporating bad habits during the summer that have to be removed during the fall, but Jones doesn't see much evidence of that.

"You might see that sometimes, but for the most part when you have a detailed plan for them," Jones explained. "That helps keep them on track. You might see a little bit of that, but not too much."

Also helping in that regard is film study. While the popular conception of that task is players sitting down to scout opponents, the reality is that players probably watch as much, if not more, tape of themselves. Jones' receivers (along with their teammates) watch themselves during past practice sessions to identify problems and help them improve. They will also watch cutups of past Mountaineer players running a certain route or performing a drill correctly so they can see the right way to do things.

"The players come in on their own, and they study themselves [on tape] from spring football and from what they did last season," Jones said. "By dong that, they can also understand the game better and learn what they should be looking for in different situations."

Earlier this spring, while his players were working out with the strength and conditioning staff, Jones was out on the road recruiting for the class of 2006. During the six-week recruiting period, WVU coaches typically spent three or four weeks on the road. As a new member of the staff, Jones was tabbed as one of the lucky ones to get four weeks of travel. Making it even tougher was the fact that Jones' weeks were consecutive ones, but other than that he didn't see a lot of difference between recruiting for a BCS conference school and some of his earlier coaching stops.

"I think recruiting is all pretty much the same. The biggest thing was being out four weeks straight," he said with a laugh. "I have a very supportive family, and I think any coach that's in the profession has to have that. I think they are pretty used to the hours, so the recruiting hasn't been that big of an adjustment."

While recruiting work and summer football camps are the next big items on the agenda, Jones is also looking forward to the start of fall practice, when he can begin working with his players again. Also looming there is another big challenge – one of folding the running backs into the passing game.

With the dearth of experience at wide receiver, WVU looked at putting running backs into the slot receiver positions during the spring, and that experiment went well enough that it will likely become part of the offense this fall. Although head coach Rich Rodriguez notes that he did the same thing at Glenville, the pressure will be on Jones to help form a cohesive receiving scheme while using not only his players, but also those of running backs coach Calvin Magee. While it's easy to say ‘we'll just split our tailback out seven yards and use him as a wide receiver', there's much more that goes into making it a reality. Jones says it will take a team effort to make that work smoothly.

"It's a combination of the offensive staff working together to get that going," Jones detailed, "whether it's Coach Magee and myself, or Coach Hand, or Coach Stewart. It's getting kids into the right places. We try to teach everyone everything, so they are learning the entire offense. I think that helps when you teach new concepts, because everyone knows every position."

Jones might have something of a leg up on this task, as he coached both wide receivers and running backs during his stint at Central Michigan. He was the wideout coach in 1999 before moving to the running backs in 2000, and also served as offensive coordinator during that time. That experience should help as he tries to fold the backs into the passing attack, but he also knows that it's a long way from the first testing of an idea during the spring to a successful implementation on the field against Syracuse or Maryland.

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