Moving Days

In PGA golf tournaments, Saturday is known as "Moving Day" – the day in which participants position themselves for their final assault on the leader board during Sunday's final round. On the college football calendar, spring practice might well be the equivalent of Moving Day, in both the literal and figurative sense.

Without the pressure of a game to prepare for each week, spring practice offers the chance for experimentation. One of the most obvious forms this takes is the moving of players from one position to another, but sometimes the reasons for the move aren't quite so clear. Sometimes, a player simply isn't working out at one position, and gets moved to another to see if he is better suited to a different spot. Sometimes, coaches are simply trying to build flexibility, depth or a greater understanding of the entire scheme by moving a player to a different spot. Whatever the reason, the key to understanding such moves is to look at the circumstances surrounding each one. The depth chart at each spot, the player involved, the duration of the move and the team's needs as a whole all can play into each position switch – and can make the football version of Moving Day range from one or two practices to a permanent change.

At West Virginia this spring, there have already been a few switches made that run the gamut of these reasons, and a closer examination of each can yield some clues as to which category each falls in.

Along the offensive line, several players, including Jeremy Sheffey and Ryan Stanchek, have gotten a bit of work at center during individual drills. Other temporary switches, which often last no more than a couple of practice periods, are all done with the same goal in mind – to develop depth at multiple positions up front. Offensive line mentor Rick Trickett doesn't do that by identifying a starter and a backup at each spot. Instead, he identifies his starting five, then figures out his number six guy, his number seven guy, and so on. If someone gets hurt, the number six guy will come in at his best position, and if that's not the same spot at the person who went out, the starters will often shuffle positions to form the best unit possible.

In order to build that sort of depth, players have to be given time at different positions to see where they can move and fill in. And while that often draws interest during spring practice, it's also not something that a lot of conclusions can be drawn from. When fall practice starts, Sheffey and Stanchek will almost certainly bracket Dan Mozes to form the interior of the line, but the work they get at other positions this spring will enable them to make moves if necessary.

The same scenario was played out in recent years at linebacker, where Jay Henry got time at all three spots. As a result, he not only can play any of the positions if necessary, but also knows the defense better. Kevin McLee has played both outside spots, and sophomore Reed Williams is getting a crash course in the outside positions as well as he follows Henry's lead. Put all those factors together, and combine them with the other linebackers on the depth chart, and the Mountaineers are certainly deeper and able to better cope with an injury or two than they were a year ago.

At other positions, however, there are more pressing reasons for moves. Lack of depth, lack of productivity and simple happiness all figure in to some of the other switches seen so far this spring.

The defensive secondary, which was decimated by graduation, has seen several changes. Charles Pugh, who would be one of the bigger cornerbacks at WVU in recent years, is getting a look at that spot instead of spur/bandit or linebacker. Running back Pernell Williams, who looked solid at cornerback in the Big 33 high school all star game, has made the bigger jump from running back to corner. And Johnny Holmes has stepped out from linebacker to spur, allowing last year's incumbent, Eric Wicks, to move to bandit. All of those moves are designed to get more speed and aggressiveness on the field, and in the case of corner, identify depth behind Larry Williams and Antonio Lewis. How these moves pan out remains to be seen, but they are certainly candidates to become permanent if the subjects of the switches perform well at their new positions.

Finally, there are moves that, at first glance, might not seem to make much sense. A pair of defenders, Vaughn Rivers and Tyler Benoit, has seen action on offense (wide receiver and running back, respectively). Why would those players be moved from positions that need depth, only to be replaced by others?

The answer, in these instances, appears to be one of fit and happiness. Benoit has lobbied for a move to running back for some time, and with Williams' move to defense, he now appears to have a shot at making the depth chart at a position he is more comfortable with. And with receiver still a position of concern, it makes sense for Rivers to move to a spot that is crying out for more productivity.

While it looks like these moves are simply lateral ones, trading a body for a body as it were, they could end up being the most productive ones of all. Think of Todd Sauerbrun, who was recruited as a placekicker but ended up being the best punter in Mountaineer history. Or Mike Vanderjagt, who came to WVU as a punter but is now one of the NFL's best-ever placekickers. There are many such examples to point to over the years, but one thing most had in common – they all had their roots in the Moving Days of spring.

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