Renewed Focus In Week Three

A short practice session Monday followed Saturday's physical scrimmage as West Virginia entered its final week of drills before spring break.

The players – and coaches – were seemingly more focused and refreshed after a day off, as WVU chose to go just 20 periods today, or little more than 90 minutes. It started off with skeleton drills utilizing the pass and run sets. Wideouts drilled route running, getting in and out of cuts, catching and securing the ball, getting their heads around and initial release from the line of scrimmage. The quarterbacks practiced drops, releases, reads on the defense (which switched coverages often) and making all the throws to the majority of the field. The lines were at eight end, so the skill players had the entire 70-plus yards of open field with which to work. The reps came very quickly, as the QBs lined up under two different centers and took snaps about 20 seconds apart. When one team was finished, it sprinted off so the other could be lined up. The coaching staff ensured the play calls were in rapidly, though they did allow for adjustments at the line.

The defensive backs worked on backpedaling, initial jam at the line, the varying coverages, closing on the ball after reads, swarming to the wideout or running back carrying the pigski9n, and dropping off receivers deep while coming up to cover shorter passes. The linebackers mixed in on the session as well, covering WRs over the middle of the field, or flying up in run support.

The defensive line repped rushing the passer and combo attacks on the pocket. One player would loop outside so another could get an interior angle with the shifting tackle and guard. Once in contact with the linemen, which was another defensive line player foir this drill, rip, swim and bull rush moves were used. The DL also practiced a contained rush so as to keep mobile quarterbacks within the pocket, as well as slants and stunts, among others. The offense worked the punch, hitting a series of dummies lined up along a mock line of scrimmage. Once the punch was delivered, linemen shuffled sideways, applying another punch to the next dummy and so on. That drilled power, hand location, thrust off the line, arm extension and location, and footwork and power transfer from the lower body.

The team then came together for an 11-on-11 kickoff coverage and return session. Pat McAfee handled all the kickoffs, which ranged from deep balls to pooched attempts. The drills, inside for the third consecutive session because of rain that is expected to clear by tonight, could not be completed at full speed because of the 80-yard field and that fact that the kicks would hit the IPF ceiling. Teams don't normally practice kickoffs at full speed anyway because off the increased potential for injury. So when McAfee's kicks hit the ceiling, the return players either already had a ball and started upfield, or were tossed a ball lofted by a student manager, then began the run. Returns to the right, left and middle were worked, but nothing fancy – like a reverse or a throwback – was shown. Darius Reynad, Vaughn Rivers, and Antonio Lewis all returned kicks, and tailback Ed Collington was inserted as one of two upmen located along the final line of blockers before the returner. WVU used larger players there last season for their ability to better block, so perhaps there is more emphasis on speed this season – or perhaps, like much else, it's simply en experiment to see what works.

Defensive coordinator Jeff Catseel, who also oversees the linebackers, put his charges through steps for rushing the passer and pass coverage, and how and where to fit-up to different offensive sets within different defensive packages. The student managers lined up garbage cans to represent linemen, and Casteel showed players how to attack the alignment and the proper footwork. It worked a very controlled and slow rush, plugging holes and knowing how, when and why Casteel wanted them to take the approach he did.

West Virginia turned to a fast-paced offensive vs. defense battle next. With the offense moving at jet pace (its quickest), the defensive was forced to read and react and get players on and off the field as quickly as possible. It performed well, with Antonio Lwis playing physically and flying to the ball while also making a nice play in space. He was caught between two wideouts, having dropped one off to the free safety over the top while coming up to cover a running back which had flared out after the snap into the fully loaded backfield. Lewis took away the shot pass to the back, then turned once Jarrett Brown committed to throwing to the wideout, coming back on an out route. Lewis knocked the ball away, nearly coming up with an interception in the process.

Wes Lyons also made a couple standout plays. The receiver caught one pass in traffic, going up to get it over Larry Williams, who has had a solid spring but did not attack the ball at its highest points. Lyons also made one more grab along the sidelines, ripping the ball down and securing it well. Lyons also missed a couple blocks, however, showing both the potential and the work that still needs to be done by the 6-8 wideout.

The lines later scrapped, working head location and explosion off the snap. The offensive tried to defend a dummy in pas protection, while the defense rushed. It was all one-on-one work, as the two never went a full five-on-three. The drill, among the favorites of Bill Kirelawich and Greg Frey, encompasses nearly every aspect of play other than tandem or team work, like passing a player down to another linemen, or stunting to open holes for a fellow DL. Footwork, various moves, hip thrust, stance, quickness off the snap, first steps, alignment, leg angles and pass sets and rush skills were all practiced within one drill. It also gives the coaches and idea of the desire and toughness of each player, as there is normally a winner and loser on each snap.

The session ended with more 11-on-11 work, though WVU, in shells, only thudded up and did not take ball carriers to the ground. The Mountaineers are expected to practice outside Wednesday, as temperatures are expected to be in the 60 with clear skies. It will also drill Thursday and Friday, then release players for the one-week spring break before the final seven days of practices leading up to the April 7 spring game. Of the next three practice sessions, at least two will be full contact.

Note: In attendance were representatives from Navy and coaches from powerhouse Byrnes High, in South Carolina. Long considered one of the top programs in the nation, Byrnes, Byrnes has produced a solid crop of collegiate talent each season.

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