Down To Basics

When the Mountaineer football coaching staff wants to get the team's competitive juices flowing, it breaks out a simple drill that lights a fire under participants and onlookers alike.

The drill, which pits four offensive players against three defensive players, is a simple test of will and skill that guarantees contact, intensity and hard work. Anyone falling short in any of those three areas will immediately be exposed, as it happens under the gaze of just about everyone on the field.

It's called the "W" drill, and it's just an extension of the "Oklahoma" or "board" drills so common on football fields across the U.S. In WVU's version, the W drill goes as follows:

  • A running back starts with the ball between two markers set about two yards apart.

  • About five yards in front of him, an offensive and defensive lineman line up against each other. Five yards further, a tight end or fullback is matched up against a linebacker. Another five yards down, a wide receiver is faced off against a defensive back.

  • At the whistle, the running back takes off with the ball, while the offensive players try to block the defenders. The defenders try to shed the blocks and make the tackle. The running back has a prescribed area he can run in – a narrow five or six yard lane at the beginning, but widening out as it goes downfield toward the wide receiver and defensive back.

    And from there, it's all fight. There's no place to hide – everyone' gaze is on the seven participants. Get blocked, or get beaten, and hoots and hollers from the opposing side will accompany the defeated players to the side as the next set of players jumps in, with a few minutes to figure out what went wrong before it's your turn again.

    For the onlookers, it's non-stop action. No sooner is one run over than the next is begun. Coaches, especially offensive line coach mentor Rick Trickett and defensive line master Bill Kirelawich are as much a part of the action as their players, as they cajole, beg, exhort and motivate for more and better results on each play. The fact that one is guaranteed to "lose" on every encounter merely serves to ratchet up the enthusiasm factor. The same holds true down the line for each position coach with a player in the mix.

    Of course, there's more to it than just having the guys slug it out. There's teaching going on all the time, as each good bit of execution (and, obviously each mistake) is pointed out and commented upon. On the offensive side, good positioning, footwork and explosion are some of the keys, while the defense's ability to stay low, get off blocks and make a tackle are the secrets to success. Even the ball carriers can improve, as they work on staying in bounds, protecting the ball, running hard and delivering blows to prospective tacklers.

    This isn't the type of drill that can be run every day. It's tough on the body, especially on running backs, who don't have a lot of room to maneuver. However, from time to time, when the coaches want to get things fired up quickly, they'll direct the managers to lay out the boards and cones in the simple "W" pattern that gives the drill its name. And when the whistle blows, the hitting certainly commences.

    That was the case prior to last Saturday's practice, when cool, crisp morning temperatures greeted the team when it hit the field for warm-ups and some individual work before the noon controlled scrimmage. In front of a large crowd of visiting high school coaches, Rich Rodriguez gathered his entire team to watch each other square off in the small arena marked off by the cones and boards. The fact that the entire team watches (this is the only drill conducted in such a fashion) speaks volumes to the importance this drill holds. While no one is likely to win or lose a starting job in his few moments inside the markers, a player can certainly gain notice by showing solid fundamentals and exhibiting the "hard edge" that the coaching staff is looking for in its players.

    As the whistle sounds, and linemen, ends, backers, receivers and DBs crack heads and pads, there's an echoing chorus of cries from the watching coaches. Comments and analysis fly from the watchers – "He gave him his chest" "He stepped with the wrong foot" – almost as quickly as each play is completed. There are also outbursts of appreciation for good plays and big hits, which happen with unsurprising frequency in the confined space. And by the end of the drill, there's a palpable feeling of excitement and intensity crackling across the floor of the stadium – just as the coaching staff intended.

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