This third drill session, held over 25 periods, was the first one outside. The previous two had been in the Caperton Indoor Facility, and as such were limited in special teams work. That was made up for today as WVU held sessions on punt and punt return, going live a few times though not hitting the punter. The units also broke to work on extra points and field goals in the IPF while the offense and defense stayed on Mountaineer Field. It's an important spring for the program areas, as West Virginia tries to find another punter and place kicker as well as a starting snapper and a holder, thought of now to be Adam Hughes and Carmen Connolly, respectively.
Among the bigger moves was a slide by Boogie Allen to free safety for a few snaps, and quarterback Nate Sowers working only with wideouts and as a punt returner. The Mountaineers did struggle a bit with blocking and completing deep balls today, but new position coach Tony Dews' players seem to be working for the first-year assistant.
"They are hard working guys and are very conscientious. They want to do well," Rodriguez said. "We have a long way to go. I don't know that we have two or three or four starting receivers right now. But we'll have a crew at the end of spring. I really like their attitude. We just have to work on fundamentals and we will be fine. Nate, now Nate is doing well. We are moving him around. He is playing exclusively receiver now, because he is playing two or three wideout positions. We know he can still play quarterback, but I think he is going to be certainly in the mix amongst the starters. So we have to get him in the mix.
"And we have been blessed, we have had some good returners. Vaughn (Rivers) and Antonio (Lewis) have both returned ones for touchdowns, and I think Darius (Reynaud) and Nate have that ability. We might get some help from newcomers as well. Everybody wants to talk about Nate because of the quarterback position, but there are a lot of guys we are moving around to find the best 11."
All four returning skill players, plus junior college transfer Ellis Lankster, a cornerback, took reps at punt return. There were no other major moves that had not already happened in practice one, like John Holmes sliding to linebacker.
"We just moved him inside a couple yards," Rodriguez said. "Basically the position he played last year (spur safety) was like an outside ‘backer. We're experimenting. We originally thought that when we recruited him. But he has gotten bigger in size and strength, and I think he is going to be pretty good there. We are trying to get out 11 fastest on the field, and Johnny has gotten bigger and stronger where he can handle himself in there."
The line play seemed to lag behind other aspects today. Offensive line coach Greg Frey went over line calls at one point with his players, making sure that they knew the calls and could logically progress through checks and reads. It was a bit of a reverberation to earlier drills, but it's a crucial step that cannot be rushed. On the flip side, Bill Kirelawich's unit seemed a step slow in lining up, several times being caught off guard by a quick-snapping offense. Both sides have talent, but are trying to mesh after losing key members to graduation and other factors last season. Jake Figner has practiced in all the drills despite pre-spring rumors that he might be limited. One of the better individual performances Friday was that of tailback Ed Collington. The junior, who scored on a 22-yard run and had several other solid gains, is getting nearly all the contact snaps with the first team as starter Steve Slaton rests his wrist after offseason surgery to repair loose bone fragments.
"It's a really big spring not just for Ed, but for all the other guys we are looking at competing for the tailback slot," Rodriguez said. "It's going to be Ed Collington getting most of the reps there. He had a great seven or eight weeks with (strength) coach (Mike) Barwis in the weight room. He is in really good shape. I am excited for him. He looked good the last three days. I think (the Gator Bowl) helped his confidence a little bit. But that should happen with all these guys. By the third session, and we count a session as a spring or fall, at the end of your third one, you ought to have it down pretty good. He has it down pretty good right now."
WVU will work special teams in Saturday's 10 a.m. scrimmage. Extra point, field goal, punt and punt block will be emphasized. There is no time limit or number of plays set. Rodriguez did say that there was more of a sense of urgency in the overall units this season with the loss of long snapper Tim Lindsey and holder Travis McClintic.
Notes: Rodriguez also address the status of J.T. Thomas, who is expected to be a reserve linebacker this fall. "It starts with his athletic ability. He is a fast guy with good size and strength," he said. "He is a guy that has a feel for it, has some instincts. I am excited for J.T. The young guys are still a little confused, but we have 12 more practices. J.T. is going to be right in the mix."