Pick Six

Eric Wicks flashed some finesse during an otherwise blue collar outing in West Virginia's midweek practice session.

The Mountaineers began and ended Wednesday's practice, held outside in clear, 70-degree weather, with 11-on-11 work, and mixed special teams, individual unit reps and skeleton drills in between. The initial all-team sets focused mainly on passing, as West Virginia did not take ball carrier to the ground, but rather "thudded up," or brought them to a stop without dragging them to a knee. As individual units ran on and off, they were getting other work on the side. Tony Dews instructed his wideouts on rip moves to break fee at the line of scrimmage. That came on the heels of days spent mainly focusing on swim and swat techniques. For the rip, receivers placed an initial hand on the defender for a shove off, then, crossing over with the other, made a sharp uppercut that freed them. Dews also wanted wideouts to focus on head location and pad level as well as the initial punch strike, not to exceed the height of the jaw. Tailbacks worked handoffs and initial steps on plays, with an emphasis on staying low, tucking the ball away and wrapping it tightly as one worked through the line.

The 11-on-11 drills were of a routine basis, with the offense looking at four- and five-wide sets while the defense matched up and went through a series of coverages and alignments. Fronts were also changed, though the drill seemed more suited, because of its non-full contact style, for the skill players. WVU rarely went into bunched sets here, and instead utilized its spread sets, almost always in a single back, and often without the tight end. Plays were from a single spot on the field as the ball was not re-spotted when the snaps were blown dead.

After a break, special teams encompassed the next 15 minutes. Punt and punt return were the lone areas worked, and West Virginia has yet to pieced in kickoff return and coverage. The kickers and other mainly special teams players do, however, go into the indoor facility to drill on snaps, holds and place kicks. The building is not tall enough to allow for kickoffs or punts to spiral downward, but kickers still practice them, just without being able to tell exactly where balls would have landed.

Pat McAfee had several excellent boots off the rugby formation. WVU is sticking with its three-man look just in front of the punter, with the spread line. It did seem that McAfee was at times taking an extra step or two, and when he did that, the ball really sailed off his foot. The Mountaineers are working in many snappers, as no one has yet emerged as a clear favorite.

The team broke apart, the lines the individual unit drills and match-up play (DL vs. OL) while the rest of the team went through a fast-paced skeleton set. The offensive line worked blocking combos like handing a defender off the another lineman and double-teaming a defender to drive him back. The two-on-one attack made it difficult for defenders, but it's the same type of problems they will face in the games with WVU's 3-3-5 odd stack set. The drill was full go and contact, and the players' approach was spirited during the period of work. The lines then later separated to work individiually, and defensive mentor Bill Kirelawich put his charges through several agility drills, one where they ran around a large hula hoop-like ring, grabbing a towel on one side of it, then exploding to the end. The idea was to work quickness at the snap and pad level. That segued into attacking a dummy, spinning around it, then ripping through on the other side, as through the DL has beaten a lineman inside, but the back had slid past, so they must refight their way back into the play.

The lines later clashed again, this time with a dummy serving as the quarterback and the offensive line trying to protect the passer while the defense rushed. This worked all phases on both sides – explosion off the ball, pad level, hand location, leg drive, hip thrust, back work and arm extensions, among others. Greg Frey and Kirelawich were heavily involved, each making corrections here and there, at times subtle changes that made huge differences on the ensuing snaps. It's a difficult drill for players, because there is almost always a winner and a loser every play, and someone's going to get coached up after it, and often times both players made mistakes within the play. The staff wants the technique and effort to be flawless, and that's rarely, if ever, done, so it's grueling for all parties, but very effective.

The skeleton drill, meanwhile, was all passing, with backs flaring out to take swing passes or run the wheel route. Four to five wideouts were used, and there was never more than one back in the set. Defensive backs worked on coverage and running to the ball, while wideouts were obviously intent on route running, getting in and out of cuts, catching and securing the ball, getting the head around on pass patterns and other aspects. WVU played both press and loose coverage, and the backs were often shifting to attempt to confuse the quarterbacks, which seemed to handle it.

The final four-plus periods encompassed 11-on-11, full contact work. West Virginia did re-spot the ball for much of the session, but once it moved into the red zone, the next group of units, either second or third team, came on. The Mountaineers finished with a goal line drill that balanced the run and the pass. Ed Collington punched in once, but the major standout was Eric Wicks, who returned two interceptions for touchdowns, one from 100 yards out. He jumped routes twice for the picks, one coming right at the goal line, and sped by the offense for the scores.

West Virginia is off Thursday before practicing Friday and holding a scrimmage Saturday.

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