Thud'em Up!

West Virginia held its initial full-contact drill session Friday and, surprisingly, it was the skill players delivering most of the blows.

The lines, seemingly having an off session, appeared hesitant and caught the ire of both defensive coach Bill Kirelawich and first-year offensive line mentor Greg Frey, who showcased a much more vocal style. Part of that is key losses such as Pat Liebig, Jeremy Sheffey and Dan Mozes. But part was a lack of execution, especially with offensive signals, and part was that the defense wasn't ready when the Mountaineer offense went into its jet sets.

That will all be corrected, and that's the primary idea around spring ball. So with the focus on fundamentals and technique in the trenches, the major pops came from the secondary and with the wideouts. The two groups went toe-to-toe, literally, with single coverage and deep and intermediate routes dominating Friday's 25-period practice. Kent Richardson came up with several solid pass deflections, while Boogie Allen worked on settling into his new slot at free safety. That move – he manned the final defensive position with Chuck Pugh and starter Quinton Andrews – isn't in stone, and the former corner could find himself swapping spots often. It's a product of what head coach Rich Rodriguez calls furthering competition, and it's allowing the logjam of corners to get more reps while Allen does the same.

The practice, the first one outside this spring, started with the team split into individual position groups. Frey's unit worked on helmet placement, stance and bowing the back to keep a defender from bull rushing the lineman into the backfield. The line also practiced taking the defensive lineman into the next level so as to disrupt linebacker play, and pad level was emphasized there, with special precautions taken during iso plays. The tight ends, under Bill Stewart, the former quarterbacks coach, drilled on slightly new footwork and techniques the multi-year coach has implemented. Stewart, an offensive line coach for nearly 20 years, has the Tes begin their blocking by moving the player more on a twist of the torso and footwork than did former coach Herb hand, who wanted to drive the defensive ends or blitzing linebackers to the perimeter and away from the play. The release points within the scheme are slightly different, but no major adjustment, according to tight end Mike Villigrana. Stewart also had his players work shoulder location and combining a lower base with a hard first step and hand location within the numbers. It's all about leverage, and Villigrana was used as an example multiple times to show exactly what should be done.

The quarterbacks practiced drops from under center and out of the gun along with ball location up around the head and shoulder before the throw. Several sessions of passes into the flats and mid-range vertically down the seams highlighted the fast-paced attack. Snaps were taken two at a time, with the signal caller sharing half the field with their counterpart and the wideouts, two or three for each QB, running patterns. One would be a pass into the flats, one a curl or seam route and another an out or in pattern. Adam Bednarik looked solid mechanically and technically, but lakced some velocity, which is to be expected. Jarrett Brown probably threw the ball even better than Pat White.

Among those looking on and moving his seat to match that of the quarterback play was former WVU and NFL QB Jeff Hostetler. Also watching was Jason Colson, Avon Cobourne, former receivers coach and current Central Michigan head coach Butch Jones as well as coaches from Hargrave. New wideouts coach Tony Dews was providing many little instructions alongside GA Bo White, who was the designated hitter on the defense. White delivered a blow with the pad after receivers caught passes, and would also add a quick word of instruction if needed.

The defensive line worked overall fundamentals, like hand and hat placement, first steps, stance and lining up, assignments along the front and other aspects. Punters and snappers practiced snaps, while the former also took jugs work (catching "snaps" fired from a football pitching gun like that used for baseballs). The punt return was the major special teams focus of the day, as Vaughn Rivers, Antonio Lewis, Darius Reynaud, Jeremy Bruce, Ellis Lankster and Nate Sowers all returned kicks. It appears Reynaud if quickly getting the hang of it, and Sowers said he felt all right, though there was certainly more work to be done there by him. The Mountaineers, Stewart said, are putting a greater emphasis on all parts of special teams after slipping from first in the Big East to fourth in many major categories last season. Of now, West Virginia has used only the staggered, two-man punt return formation. Because of NCAA rule changes, like kickoffs starting at the 30 and the lowering of tees, more returns are expected overall, something Rodriguez said he wants to make certain WVU has covered by the conclusion of spring drills.

The team then came together for a full-contact, inside running session, and followed that with a vertical passing drill, though most fell incomplete. Schmitt had a solid catch down the seam, and White, when all was covered, flashed his trademark speed in getting around the end effectively. Tailback Ed Collington was arguably the best all-around player in the third practice. He gave linebacker Reed Williams a hip, then took it away in running for a score from 22 yards out. On the next play, however, Williams got great penetration and stuffed Collington for a seven-yard loss. The back also had four to five other runs that showed his shiftiness and speed. Jet Best also ripped of a great catch-and-sprint from the slot wideout spot.

Jake Figner, questionable for spring with an injury, has practiced in all the drills thus far and appears fine. The line's youth and inexperience at some slots is showing, however, with the signals not being called out quickly or loudly enough by center Mike Dent. He is flanked on the first team by Eric Rodemeyer (in for the injured Greg Isdaner at right guard) and Figner on the right and John Bradshaw and Ryan Stanchek on the left. Former tight end Selvish Capers is running with the third and second teams, seemingly in that order. Sam Morrone has seen more time at fullback as Schmitt divides his time between FB and TE. Adam Hughes is currently the first-team long snapper with Carmen Connolly the holder. Settling those two slots is a key during the spring. Ridwan Malik also appears to be making a few more plays.

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