Rod Report - Day IV

After the first four practices of the spring, head coach Rich Rodriguez seems to be relatively upbeat with what he's seen so far from his team.

Rodriguez, entering his seventh-year as head coach of his alma mater, led his squad through a grueling workout on Saturday that lasted the better part of three hours. With sunshine and unseasonably warm temperatures in the air just days after eight inches of snow surfaced the field at Milan Puskar Stadium, the Mountaineers even got some situational scrimmage work in during their fourth practice of the spring.

"I was gnawing my teeth," Rodriguez told reporters following the workout. "We don't go as fast (as a regular season practice) because we're repping everybody. We were giving everybody reps, and it's painful for me to have it be that long. Being it's Saturday and a beautiful day, we got a little bit of extra work in."

One player who got a good bit of work on Saturday was quarterback Adam Bednarik. Though he's wearing a green, limited contact jersey following shoulder surgery, Bednarik has shown that he is on the road to full recovery.

"He's taking snaps. He's not 100 percent with his arm strength, but it was really good for him to be in there and make a couple of throws," said Rodriguez, who also noted that Bednarik and fellow quarterbacks Jarrett Brown and Patrick White all performed better on Saturday than they did in previous days. "I think he'll get his strength back as we go along, but it was good to see that. Adam is a smart guy and he knows our system."

If Bednarik is able to fully recover by the time two-a-days begin in August, it will add greatly to the depth at quarterback. Assuming Bednarik would be the third-string quarterback, the Mountaineers would have three players at that position that have started Big East games. Having Bednarik fully healthy would also impact the depth at wide receiver, where last season' third-string quarterback -- Nate Sowers -- has been getting most of his reps throughout the first week of spring ball.

"He probably won't take many snaps at quarterback," Rodriguez said of the sophomore from Martinsburg. "We've got three guys there in Adam, Jarrett, and Pat. Also, we have a need at wide receiver. We really want to find seven, eight, or nine guys in the rotation. Right now, that's a struggle. I think we have some ability there, but my biggest concern right now personnel-wise offensively is at wide receiver."

Asked whether or not he currently had enough wide receivers that he's comfortable playing, Rodriguez responded: "I don't know, and I really don't have to know right now.

"Darius Reynaud, we know, can do some things. I think that Tito Gonzales, we know, can do some things. Dorrell Jalloh is struggling with a sore foot. We're waiting to see right now with Wes Lyons, and John Maddox, Nate Sowers and Jeremy Bruce who's been in and out. Those guys have got to be the core of (the wide receivers). I've seen some things over the last two days, but the next 10 or 11 practices are important for all of those guys."

Besides receiver, another position of concern coming into spring drills was running back. All-American Steve Slaton will be the starter next season, but behind No. 10 there is not much experience. With Slaton's participation being limited this spring as he recovers from a January wrist surgery, other players have been given a chance to prove themselves worthy of backing up the Heisman Trophy candidate.

So far, Rodriguez has been pleased with what he's seen from the group of tailbacks vying for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.

"I think Ed Collington is making progress. This is an important spring for all of those running backs," said the head coach. "All of those guys have gotten better. For Ed Collington, Jetavious (Best), Eddie Davis and Tommy Spurlock – those guys are going to get the chance to show themselves this spring.

"What was pleasing is that we haven't dropped the ball on the ground as a fumble in two days. That's something that Coach Magee stresses a good bit."

In addition to Collington, Best, Davis, and Spurlock (a walk-on from South Charleston), Jason Gwaltney has also been getting a snap or two in the Mountaineer backfield. Gwaltney's roller coaster ride has been well-documented, but the one-time blue chipper is back in Morgantown hoping to make the most of his second chance. While he'll continue to get a rep here and there on the field, Rodriguez has made it very clear all week that Gwlatney's biggest strides need to be made off the field.

"Jason Gwaltney is still there too, but he's taking very few reps by design. We've got to see if he proves himself more academically.

"He's got a long way to go, remarked the head coach. "There's an appeal process, and a waiver and all that. I think there's more than that, to be honest with you. He's got to show us (that he's committed) but he's got to be NCAA eligible too."

Defensively, the Mountaineer head coach has been pleased with the effort put forth by his defense. While the offense was piling up records left and right last season, the defense had trouble playing consistent, particularly in the secondary. So far this spring, Rodriguez has seen the stoppers play with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, which is something he was certainly looking for.

"I think they did some good things. I also think that there are things they have to get better at. I want them to play with enthusiasm, and be coached with enthusiasm. I think we're seeing that. They've got to get some confidence. We've got a lot of ability over there. Our guys have to understand that they've got to play with a tremendous amount of hunger and eagerness to prove themselves. I think they will.

"I like the way that our corners have been aggressive," he continued. "I think we've done a nice job up front. I think that our defensive line has been pretty physical and has kind of dominated the line of scrimmage so far."

One player that will likely compete for playing time in the secondary next fall is junior college transfer Ellis Lankster. A JUCO All-American in 2006, Lankster is currently getting reps with the second and third team defense at West Virginia.

"I think he's competing. I think he's a little bit confused a little bit with what we're doing because this is all new for him. Some of the things I've seen on one-on-one, I'm pretty encouraged...I think he's got a chance to help us right away."

The Mountaineers will return to practice on Monday afternoon, and will finish next week with a full-scale scrimmage on Saturday.


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