Stop Corps, Capers Provide Highlights

Stout defensive red zone play and an incredible showcase of athleticism highlighted West Virginia's first spring scrimmage Saturday, held inside Mountaineer Field.

It was the second day of full pad workouts, and the first in which officials were on hand to assist. The WVU coaching staff chose to hold off on a full scale scrimmage initially, instead breaking the team into individual units for the first hour before working special teams, then piecing to full unit together in sections by segueing from skeleton drills into 11-on-11 work.

The wideouts focusing initially on getting off the line and using a solid rip move to shake loose press coverage. That worked well later, when several of the receivers were double-covered bullets (the coverage players on the outside within a punt formation) on the punt team. GA Bo White threw the corps deep balls, and they practiced locating the football and catching it over the correct shoulder. Shielding the defender also came into play here, a combination of leg, hip, torso and shoulder work to seal either the inside or outside, depending upon the route and pass location. Wideouts also got in and out of cuts quickly and practiced breaking down within the move and not giving the defense any hints of whether the play called for shorter routes or would go vertical to stretch the field. The final drills were ones with two and three moves that are used less because of the need to protect the passer for so long.

The tight ends used the first hour for hand location to move defenders and squaring pads, assistant Bill Stewart challenging his unit to gain the right leverage and hand location by "hitting them in the lungs." The unit also practiced getting upfield with leg drive and punching the hips out to gain better leverage within a one-on-one situation. All are minor details that amount to major effectiveness within both the blocking and pass running schemes, as well a sealing the outside and moving defenders into the next level. They worked adjacent to the offensive line, who were often on the drive sleds. Lower body explosion and keeping a low center of gravity and a low base were the details of the day. Coach Greg Frey also quizzed his line on where different players are on certain plays, like the location of the running or fullback, or where the quarterback should be, indicating the need to understand the full play and why the team does what it does rather than just an individual assignment. That's key within a section of the team that is the most dependent upon full-team execution, teamwork and togetherness.

The offense eventually challenged the defensive front, which had been aggressively working the rush game as well as all the technical aspects demanded by Bill Kirelawich. When the two units square off, the goal is for the defensive to gain penetration and get to a quarterback dummy, knocking it over. The offense obviously protects and tries to force the action away from the pocket. The units were largely even on the drill, which is nearly always a one-on-one challenge instead of a full five on three or four. Tackle Selvish Capers showed both his potential and inexperience, to be expected at this time, while Ryan Stanchek looked solid in all phases. Kirelawich seemed especially happy with his younger players, as they slipped past interior lineman within third team battles. Johnny Dingle and Scooter Berry look to be progressing well, with Berry having the perfect proportions for line play.

The quarterbacks and running backs worked flat passes and seam routes again, with the reps coming very quickly. The QBs later rolled pockets and threw out of those plays, and all routes were utilized, including ins and outs, curls, vertical throws down the seams and to the outside, slants and crosses on rollouts. The linebackers were working coverage recognition and reading and moving with the quarterback as his head and shoulders turned, indicating a pass in the same general direction. Breaking on the ball was key, and within the scrimmage, position coach and defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel harped upon getting to the football for swarm tackling.

The secondary challenged the wideouts for a brief drill before WVU phased into a brief20-25 play scrimmage highlighted by inside running. Quarterback keeps were a major staple, and tailback Ed Collington had another solid outing. Punt coverage and return were next, with multiple players taking reps within the coverage bullets, the outside blockers and at returner. DB coach Tony Gibson emphasized a one-move-and-go tactic from the returners, meaning their job is to make the first player downfield miss, then get vertical up the field as quickly as possible before a wall can setup. Too often return men want to bounce plays east and west, which doesn't accomplish any field position shift. West Virginia wants to avoid that and gain as many yards as possible on a consistent basis. Bill Stewart, special teams coordinator, as said that he didn't care for WVU's drop from first to fourth in the Big East in punting last year, and that it would be a major part of spring and fall work.

Safeties coach Bruce Tall worked opposite Gibson on the drill, lining up the coverage players and seeing that the correct angles were taken. He also would instruct the wall of two or three defenders that was directly in front of the return man to take defenders to certain locations, allowing lanes to better open and greatering the potential for a long runback.

With about one hour remaining, the Mountaineers came together for brief skeleton drills again before going 11-on-11. Offensive coordinator Calvin Magee and first-year quarterbacks coach Rod Smith wore headsets to discuss play calling. Running was initially heavy before the pass game got moving a bit. Jarrett Brown threw some lower balls, but overall the quarterbacks performed well. Darius Reynaud caught a crossing pattern for the offense's first score after the defense stopped the first-, second- and third-teams on the first two series. Place kicker Pat McAfee made a 47-yard field goal on another drive, and the second-team chased that with a 40-yard one of their own. The play, however, was often started on the 40 going in, and so the "drives" needed to only move the ball 15 yards or so for the kick to be setup.

The full-scale session brought forth the best individual play, both in terms of effort and athleticism, of the day. Freshman defensive back Sidney Glover picked off a pass in the end zone on third team work. He had a surefire 100-plus yard score, it seemed, with only open field in front of him. Tight end-turned offensive tackle Slevish Capers was in on the play, however, and began to trail Glover coming out of the end zone. He was a good 10-15 yards behind the skill player when he started after him, the coaches yelling "Go get him!"

Glover still had about an 10-yard cushion by midfield, but it shrank considerably within the next 20 yards, Capers closing on him. Glover felt he was being run down and tried to cut side to side, with Capers right there. Glover finally hit the brakes and tried a stutter move as Capers blew past, and another oncoming offensive player finally dragged him down out of bounds between the 10-15 yard lines. It was an 85-yard-plus return, but more impressive was the ability of an exterior lineman to run down a defensive back who had a head start. The showcase of Capers' speed and ability was incredible on the play, and it drew much praise and many cheers from the staff and players.

The scrimmage ended with the offense having the ball on the nine-yard line, down four with one play left. The first and second teams failed to punch in on two tries each. Both units threw once into the end zone, which fell incomplete, and once short, where blocking wideouts tried to clear defensive backs to no avail. Nate Sowers, lined up at outside receiver, and Antonio Lewis, having battled all day, worked each other well on the plays. The third team offensive finally punched in when it hit a flare route five yards down field and the back broke a couple tackles to get in. That was a check down pass, and not obviously the first choice, because it left the ball carrier 12 feet from the end zone with a pair of defenders closing. But it worked, and the offense got a lift at the end despite the defense holding it five of six times.

The scrimmage is West Virginia's last practice this week. It is off Sunday, then resumes its Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule before another scrimmage one week from today. There were no injuries to report, though some players were banged around pretty solidly, the enthusiasm remaining high with fatigue not yet setting in. The weather cooperated, rain holding off until after the session and temperatures remaining in the 50s.

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