"Based on spring practice and the depth we have coming back, I think our secondary should be solid," Rodriguez said. "We have some guys on the defensive line that should give us some depth, and that should take some of the pressure off the linebackers. Even though we lost a few backers, we have four that have a chance to play because they are close in ability. Running back could be deep too, but we have to see them in practice."
"I'm looking forward to seeing our wide receivers, both the redshirts and the new guys like Mookie Tate and Darius Reynaud. Wide receiver is a position that is really going to be interesting to watch to see who can emerge. That's one place we struggled in the spring. I'm also anxious to see Brandon Myles, who has been nicked up but who is now in best shape of life, according to him."
Another wide receiver that will be available is Brandon Barrett, who had several issues to overcome, including academic shortcomings and a brush with the law. Barrett has regained his eligibility, and will be in camp next week, albeit as a walkon. Assuming he encounters no further problems, Barrett could earn a scholarship back for the 2006 season.
Rodriguez also answered the same questions about quarterback for the 100th time this summer, and the answers were mostly the same.
"I think we are back to where we feel pretty confident [the quarterbacks] will all be 100% at the first practice next Saturday. Adam Bednarik's shoulder feels much better, and J.R. House told me he is throwing without any pain. I don't think their arm strength will be 100% -- you have to build up to that. But as far as being fully released and ready for practice, all indications are they will be ready for the sixth.
"Quarterback is one of the positions have to find a couple [of guys that can play], but we have to find a couple of wide receivers and see who the punter and kickers are. We must teach a lot of fundamentals, but be ready for a big conference game on the fourth.
West Virginia has churned out excellent offensive lines since the turn of the century, and Rodriguez expects that trend to continue.
"We expect that," the Grant Town, W. Va. native said. "We've made our trademark running the ball. Of course, that depends on staying healthy, and all coaches will say that."
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With a number of young players battling for playing time, not to mention starting assignments, Rodriguez said his staff will approach fall practice with a bit of a different mindset.
"We will have to do a lot of teaching and have a lot of patience this fall," Rodriguez noted. "We expect a certain level of play, but there are going to be mistakes. The important thing is that we have to keep their confidence up while we are teaching."
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As reported here earlier, several players in the incoming class are either bound for other destinations or still waiting to hear on eligibility issues. Sabree Thomas will likely end up at a junior college, and Ryan Brinson will attend Hargrave Military Academy. WVU is still waiting to hear on the academic fates of Selvish Capers, Rashad Roussell, Ed Collington and Steve Weedon. The latter three are not expected to qualify, and could either enroll at West Virginia or play at a prep school or junior college.
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Erick Phillips' career is in jeopardy. Saying, ‘We have some real concerns about whether Erick will be able to bounce back,' Rodriguez noted that the hard-luck back will not be a member of the 105-member group that will report next Friday. Phillips underwent arthroscopic surgery on his injured knee earlier this summer, but has not show the improvement that the procedure was designed to produce.
"It may be another six weeks or so before he will be released, and we don't even know if he will be able to play again. We are all waiting to see how his knee recovers. It's really a shame," the WVU head coach said.
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Current practice plans will be for the quarterbacks to participate live in some situations, but Rodriguez and his staff will be standing by with whistles at the ready to avoid any big hits. Rodriguez believes that to allow the QBs to show everything they can do, and to prepare for the season, they will have to go live and get hit in some situations.
If the QBs do get hit, however, there probably won't be many observers there to see it. Rodriguez plans to close many practice sessions, including all of the scrimmages. He indicated that was not a knock on the media, but that the move was designed to allow newcomers to get into the flow and the youngsters competing for playing time focused and ready for the Syracuse game. He also said it would avoid confusion as to which players were with which units.
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In the same vein, the fifth-year head coach said he plans to limit access to freshmen and newcomers during camp's initial stages.
"I don't want them worry about saying the right things when their heads might be swimming with all the other things they have to learn," Rodriguez explained. "We just want to get their feet wet and in the flow a little bit. We want them to earn their stripes with their teammates, before we get 20 microphones in front of Jason Gwaltney."