Improvement Process

Entering his second year on the job at West Virginia, wide receivers coach Butch Jones has seen a number of improvements in his charges, both on and off the field, despite the perception that the Mountaineer passing game underachieved during the 2005 season.

Jones, who is usually soft-spoken and low-key, gets quite animated when speaking of the perception that his players, and the passing game in general, are somehow the Achilles' heel of the Mountaineer program.

"I just kind of chuckle when I hear that," said Jones after the conclusion of spring practice. "When you go 11-1 in this game, well, it's all about winning. Whatever it takes to get it done. That's our motivation as a receiver group. It's making the big third down catch or making the big block. I think that has developed into a very unselfish attitude amongst the group. We've taken that and turned it into a positive."

While West Virginia's wide receivers haven't put up big numbers, Jones thinks they have made a great deal of progress since he came on board last year. Much of the time since then has been a learning process for both the coach and his players, and he believes they are now much better positioned to continue the improvement process on the field.

"I think the big thing is the receivers know the expectations for the position," Jones said as he summed up spring drills. "We've worked hard at improving our route-running techniques, understanding our pass packages and what we are trying to accomplish within each concept. And then with our blocking, too, we are moving in the right direction as well.

"[Off the field], I think the big thing is that the kids know me and I know them, and they know what to expect from me," he continued. "I also know them personally. I know maybe how to get to a kid a little bit better or motivate them better. I've met their families and know their family situation. The feeling out process is over."

Whether that translates into bigger numbers in the passing game remains to be seen, but Jones isn't concerned with that at all. Instead, he's concerned with getting maximum effort and efficiency from his charges on every snap, and he thinks his group is well on its way to achieving that goal.

Jones' group was hampered by injuries this spring. Both Darius Reynaud and Brandon Barrett missed several practice sessions, while senior Rayshawn Bolden, who has shown flashes of productivity, missed the entire spring. Jones took a different approach with Bolden to help him get some benefit from the four week period.

"Ray and I have had some long talks, and I think it really bothered him not to be out there competing on a daily basis this spring," Jones explained. "What I've tried to do is tell him not to see things from a player's perspective but from a coach's perspective. So, this spring, I had him observe from the sideline and in the meeting room, and talk to me about what he saw. I am hoping that experience will help him when he does come back. I hope looking at it from a different perspective helps."

That approach isn't a unique one for Jones, who dislikes simply lecturing his players on the field and in the meeting rooms. He gets his players involved in the teaching and learning process in a variety of ways.

"I always like to have our players talk," he said. "In one of our last meetings in the spring, I had each one stand up. I'd ask him a question about the offense or about a fundamental. For example, I would ask them what a "stick" is – how do you stick a route. Just doing that kind of stuff helps get everyone communicating. You know you have something going when everyone speaks the same language."

Jones thinks that process is getting better, and he will be looking to spread it to his incoming freshman class this fall. He will also be looking for immediate help from that group, to see if there are any players who could give the passing game another boost. Players such as Wes Lyons, John Maddox and Eddie Davis could be in the mix for early playing time.

Jones has several things he looks at during the first few days of camp to see if a player is advanced enough to get on the field as a true freshman. And, just like his teaching methods, there are two sides to the process, one on, and one off, the field.

"First of all, I look at their quickness, how they run, what their speed level is," said Jones. I watch how they catch the football. At this level everything is very fast and very contact-oriented, so I look at how they catch the ball in a contact space. Do they catch the ball, hold on to it, protect it?"

"The other thing is how well they are able to pick up the system. Do they grasp it fairly easily, or is there going to be a big learning curve? As Coach Rod says, we don't want the mind to tie up the feet. A lot of times when a young player comes in, he's thinking so much he's not able to play as fast as we want him to."

Part of the process of getting youngsters, freshmen or otherwise, into the mix is having the veterans help in the teaching process. That's part of Jones' system as well, and it also serves as a quick read on how well the juniors and seniors grasp concepts as well.

"We will try different things with freshmen to get them a little head start – they might see a playbook or they might call me with some questions -- but the big thing is when they get on campus. Our older kids need to take them under their wings and teach them the offense. I like to do that, because it puts the onus on the older kids too. You find out how much they know, and how well they grasp it. And the teaching process creates kind of a bond between the players, too. The bulk of the work is done in the summer and they are able to spend time with our older players and let them teach them the ropes."

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