Springing Forward

It was a busy day on and off the field for beat-up West Virginia, which extended walk-on invitations to two in-state players early in the day, then showed surprisingly crisp play on both sides of the ball in the afternoon despite resembling Christmas decorations, according to head coach Rich Rodriguez.

The holiday comparison came from the jersey colors of injured players, which wear red (no contact) or green (limited contact) shirts dictating status. Wideout Darius Reynaud remained in red for the second consecutive practice following an aggravation of a groin injury and is listed as day-to-day. Linebacker Jay Henry (back spasms) and cornerback Larry Williams (leg), who was hobbling on Monday, were also in red.

"(Reynaud) needs some work," Rodriguez said. "He has some perimeter things and some blocking that he needs to work on. I am hoping he will get back this weekend. And Henry could not go full speed today. It is hard to make the club when you're in the tub, they say."

And if that's the case, West Virginia's depth is taking hits due to the tub time. Quarterbacks Nate Sowers and Adam Bednarik (both have shoulder conditions) obviously remained in green while backup spur Chris Corwell, linebacker Tom Contraguerro, and wideout Darren Brownlee were limited. Offensive lineman Jeremy Sheffey did not practice because of an illness, but is expected back Friday, meaning WVU was minus 10 players counting linebacker Mortty Ivy, who was confirmed to have an ACL tear. Ivy, who saw a doctor today, is scheduled for surgery within the next seven days.

"That would lead to a possible return for (fall) camp," Rodriguez said. "But you can't predict how soon he will come back from that."

One positive was that receiver Rayshawn Bolden was off crutches and walking on his casted left foot, which was broken in the Sugar Bowl. Another was that the Mountaineers invited Morgantown High fullback Maxwell Anderson and University High quarterback Justin Hostetler to walk-on. Anderson is expected to start his career at fullback, where WVU is thin, while Hostetler will start as a defensive back. Rodriguez said Anderson, because of his position, could make an immediate impact. Both players' fathers also played at West Virginia. Anderson's father, Ernie, played guard from 1981-84 while Hostetler's dad, Jeff, was a quarterback on two of those teams (1982 and '83).

"We are excited," Rodriguez said. "Our walk-on program has been one of the keys to our success. It's something we take very seriously in our program. We have had a lot of guys, from the Owen Schmitts to the rest of the guys like Max Anderson, Hostetler and (Jordan) Pinto and (Justin) Blankenship, all the local guys. We are really excited. They come from great programs and are well-coached. They will have their opportunity to make their mark on Mountaineer football."

Other in-staters finally getting time to make any kind of mark are Brandon Barrett and Ryan Dawson. Both practiced today (Barrett was also on the field Monday) after missing extended time. Dawson had a well-executed over-the-shoulder catch of an arcing 35-yard pass from Pat White when the wideout beat walk-on defensive back Chris Thompson one play after the two came up scrapping and had to be separated. Barrett made a few catches but dropped several balls and seemed to favor his thigh, which was heavily wrapped.

"Both of those guys are going to have to prove themselves on a consistent basis," Rodriguez said. "Brandon has done some things for us and he needs this spring ball. Ryan has a long way to go. He needs several practices like today to prove to us that we can play him."

Both will be key for depth, and were slid in and out of the first and second teams to try to develop a feel for both quarterbacks. That also allowed the coaching staff to see what they looked like with each unit. Receiver was an especially mixed position today as Dorrell Jollah, Brandon Myles, Dwayne Thompson and Jason Colson all saw time with the first unit. Jeremy Bruce ran mainly with the second team, while Travis McClintic, also the first team holder, made some solid plays and got upfield quickly after catching passes.

Passing was the main focus of the 23-period practice, which lasted almost two hours. The Mountaineers used the Caperton Indoor Facility for the drills, both because of inclement weather and for better concentration.

"We could have went outside," Rodriguez said, "but I told our team that I wanted the focus to be on the practice and on the fundamentals and getting better and not on the weather. I wanted the intensity ratcheted up a little bit and I thought it was. The defense did some good things and the offense did some good things. We looked like a football team today."

Which was a vast improvement over Saturday's scrimmage. West Virginia also practiced punting minus the rugby kick and again from varying alignments and locations on the field. Tim Lindsey's snaps are right on, even according to McClintic, but backup snapper Tim Reed, a walk-on lineman from Madison, Ohio, struggled with height and location. Most of his snaps were low and a few hit the ground before reaching McClintic.

"They'll get it," McClintic said. "It's just taking some time. Tim (Lindsey) is right on. He is making it easy. But we have some time left to work with the other guys."

Vaughn Rivers was moved up to the first team at corner after Williams' injury vacated the slot. He gave up one big play, when Jollah out-jumped him and cradled a pass for a touchdown. In the backfield, Kent Richardson returned a Jarrett Brown interception for a score. Brown would have caught the freshman, but he was well-blocked by Pernell Williams after the pick. Akeem Jackson also had an interception and Charles Pugh laid a good hit on tailback Jet Best off a swing pass.

The offensive and defensive lines worked on individual rushing. One offensive lineman guarded a tackling dummy while a defensive player tried to slip past him and hit the dummy within a few seconds. The drill upped intensity and added a bit of individualism on a pair of units that have practiced largely as a whole for much of the spring.

The entire team was brought together to close practice with a similar one-minute drill done by WVU on Monday. The offense, starting at the 50-yard line, tries to score within one minute of game clock time. The first team quickly moved downfield, but bogged down in the redzone as Schmitt was stopped short of the end zone by Johnny Dingle on a great solo tackle. For the offense, Jollah recorded his second score of the day off a pass deflection and tight end Adam Serena hauled in a five-yard pass for a touchdown. Jet Best added another score, this time on the ground.

It was one of the few times West Virginia has done short-yardage situations this spring. The Mountaineers plan to do additional short-yardage work this weekend. The scrimmage, the third and final one of the spring before the April 15 Gold-Blue game, is the next time WVU will go in full pads. Friday's practice will be in shoulder pads and helmets only.


Rodriguez commented on several players and situations.

On T. J. Mitchell and Jarrett Brown, the backup quarterbacks who are not injured: "(Mitchell) made a couple nice plays today, and Jarrett Brown made some nice plays. They are getting better, but they still have a long way to go. I was encouraged by a lot of what they did today, in particular Jarrett Brown.

"They are getting all the reps. Nate (Sowers) would be getting some, and Adam (Bednarik) would be getting a lot. It is unfortunate. We know what Adam can do, but I feel for Nate because he is losing ground in that battle. It is just a nagging shoulder thing. He might be able to go in this weekend's scrimmage, but we won't know for two days.

On the offensive tackle depth, depleted with the loss of Chris Bassler: "Jake Figner is having a good spring and we are getting a lot of confidence in him. Damien Crissey is a walk-on who has been in the program and is pretty solid. Then we need another couple guys to challenge them, whether that comes from John Bradshaw or Jon Walko or whoever, we'll find out in the next two practices.

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