Sharks Look For Improvement

By most accounts, WVU's punt coverage was not good in 2001.

WVU's punt coverage team allowed an average of 12.4 yards per return in 2001. Even worse, opponents were able to return 37 of West Virginia's 64 punts, which points out a lack of quick coverage and directional control by the punters.

To fix those problems, WVU has been working hard in spring drills to emphasize basic coverage skills and schemes.

One drill has the Mountaineer punt team getting off the line and staying in their lanes by running to assigned spots on the field about fifteen yards from the punt returner. Once everyone makes it to their assigned spot, the team then converges on the return man.

Other drills include specific work for the "bullets" (the two players lined up wide on the punt team). These players work on breaking the line of scrimmage quickly, beating their blocker downfield, and forcing the punt returner to run toward the sidelines rather than directly upfield.

Stewart is also experimenting with several different players at the bullet positions, including linebacker James Davis and running back Quincy Wilson.

"James Davis will strike some fear in those guys," Stewart said of opposing punt returners. "Anyone who wants to return the ball against him, I promise you, he will strike them.

"Quincy came up and told me he was the best bullet we had a couple of years ago. He said 'You put at bullet and no one will hold me up. I'll get down the field.' So, we said ok, we'll try you."

Getting the best athletes on the field on special teams will have obvious benefits for WVU this year, but it will also help those players down the road if they try to play professionally. Stewart noted that some former Mountaineers missed that opportunity.

"Some of our seniors that left are sick. One of the first things they were asked at the combines was 'Do you play any special teams?' And a lot of them had to say no. If they want to go to the next level, one of the best ways to do that is via special teams."

The ever-optimistic Stewart believes that, despite the numbers, WVU showed some improvement on special teams.

"We did get a little better last year, but I think we can do even better this year. That's what we're aiming for."

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