Rod Report - Day VI (Afternoon)

In Thursday afternoon's practice the Mountaineers donned full pads for the second time this camp. Looking back, head coach Rich Rodriguez thinks he probably should have flip-flopped the agenda for the morning session and afternoon session.

"I wish we would have done it with the practice this morning because we had about 12 guys out this afternoon attending summer classes. I think 10 of the 12 guys who were out were defensive guys. They had to go do their classes and get ready for finals tomorrow. It was not a crisp practice, and I think that's part of the reason," said the sixth year head coach.

The coach wasn't that worried about having those players out though, since this past Sunday's practice has put the Mountaineers a day ahead of schedule from where they normally are at this point in camp. Tomorrow, the Mountaineers will have another "good, long practice" as Rodriguez put it. The team will have their second two-a-day on Saturday morning and afternoon.

Overall, Thursday seemed like a day that the head coach would just assume the team learned from and then move on to what are hopefully better, and crisper practices.

"I didn't like either one of them today to be honest with you, which I always try to be," he frankly stated.

While much of the state is anticipating the season opener against fellow in-state school Marshall, Rodriguez is focused on the team improving enough to be competitive in 23 days when the regular season begins. There are still a lot of kinks to work out on the practice field over the final eight days of fall camp.

"By the end of camp you've got to have some semblance of execution in all three phases," he said. "Right now it's just a different mistake here and there. We hadn't had an exchange problem in four days, and today we had three of them. We aren't under center much, but today we were having those problems, and on the goalline nonetheless. We'll get that corrected."

Through the first seven days of camp, several young players have caught Rodriguez's eye. Perhaps the player who can help out WVU the most of that group is sophomore running back Ed Collington. The former Penn Hills standout sat out last season as a non-qualifier, but could be poised to backup sophomore speedster Steve Slaton this fall at running back.

"We consider him a freshman because he's never practiced before, even though he's a sophomore. He's going to be in the mix at tailback. We need somebody else for sure, and Ed has been very encouraging so far," remarked Coach Rod. "He's very conscientious, and there's no question that he's going to figure into our plans for this year."

The Mountaineers have continued to work on special teams, particularly the punt and kickoff return. West Virginia led the Big East in punt return yardage last fall, thanks in no small part to the two-man return team of Antonio Lewis and Vaughn Rivers.

For kickoff returns though, the Mountaineers might throw opponents a curveball in late-game situations.

"We could have Slaton back there returning kicks at times," Rodriguez said. "It wouldn't be unlike USC did with Reggie Bush. It could be a tight ballgame in the fourth quarter where we need a little bit of a jump start or something like that."

Other players who could potentially return kicks for West Virginia this fall are freshman defensive back Guesly Dervil, and junior wideout Darius Reynaud. Both Slaton and Reynaud lined up as kickoff returners at times last season.

While both Lewis and Rivers will be in the mix as kickoff returners, Rodriguez noted that sometimes it's better to have a different type of athlete returning kickoffs than the players returning punts.

"A punt returner has to have a little bit of a wiggle, but that kick returner's a guy that has speed and can just hit the hole. Shawn Terry wasn't a great side-to-side or make you miss guy, but once he hit a hole he could go full speed ahead," said Rodriguez while adding that Terry (who returned kickoffs during Rodriguez's first season at WVU in 2001) was probably the best kick returner he's had.

On offense, there was little change as to the status of starting quarterback Pat White, who has missed the past few days with a muscle strain in his side.

"He threw a little bit today, and took some reps in individuals, but didn't do anything with team drills," Rodriguez said. "If it keeps lingering I'll be concerned, but the only positive is that it's forcing the young guys to really step it up a little bit as far as getting thrown in the fire. That's not a bad thing though."

Finally, Rodriguez was asked about his young receivers. While the question was centered around redshirt freshman receivers like Ryan Dawson and Darren Brownlee, it's a sophomore who has been the most pleasant surprise in camp.

"The player who has made the most improvement out of anybody on our team has been Tito Gonzales," he said without hesitation. "I told the team that, and I told Tito that. At this time last year, I didn't think he could play here. Now he's going to be in the rotation. He is the most improved player on our football team."

Gonzales came to WVU in 2004, was redshirted, and used his first year of eligibility last season. Gonzales did not play in a single game last year, though he did play extensively in the junior varsity game against Hargrave Military Academy.

That's it for the first of four two-a-days. Stay tuned to BlueGoldNews.com for the most up to date information around fall camp.


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