"He is not a senior, but any time you play the mike linebacker position that comes with it as it would with the quarterback on offense," head coach Rich Rodriguez said of Williams' new direction. "With Marc out, he is taking a lot of reps with the ones and when we get Marc back it will give us a little flexibility. He can play more than just the mike linebacker, and he'll do that this fall. We considered him a starter last year, and as the year went on he was in there a good bit. He is in the best shape of his life, he understands what we are doing and he is a really good football player. He understands the game."
That understanding and ability as enabled Williams to become a major part of the defense years before it was ever expected. And as West Virginia dials back, he is more able to showcase his pure skills and nose for the ball. That has come in handy for a defense adjusting on the fly, trying new coverages while the offense dials back.
"We have been really limited in what we have been installing," Rodriguez said. "That's by design. This spring has been a lot of evaluation. We have a few things that we are looking at installing, but we have done a lot of evaluation and we will continue to do that over the next six practices."
Another player getting a chance to fly around and prove himself able to play multiple positions is Eric Wicks. The senior-to-be, expected to earn another year by graduating this spring, will play multiple safety slots, sliding so that – again – the Mountaineers play their best 11.
"We have had him close to the line of scrimmage, at spur, and today we had him way back at one of the other safety positions," Rodriguez said. "He is a guy who makes plays. When the ball is in the air, he goes and gets it and picks it off. It was about half a joke (about Wicks also playing offense) because he was the only guy catching the ball. I am not opposed to having a guy that has great balls skills playing (offense) and running a route or two if we can't get that out of our receivers. I am still waiting to see that. But there is so much involved on the offense and defense, it is snot as simple as going out and running a route. You have to beat certain coverages and know the plays and the signals. It is difficult, and it's a difficult adjustment for any player to make."
One group trying to make such adjustments is the offensive line, which lost starting center Dan Mozes and guard Jeremy Sheffey. Both were all-Big East players, Mozes an All-American and Remington Award winner. Mike Dent and John Bradshaw are manning the slots now, and seem to be making solid progress.
"I think they are doing fine," Rodriguez said of the line's meshing and development. "It's about the same as every spring here. I don't sense much difference. You obviously have a new center. Mike Dent has a pretty good idea of what we are doing. They are getting a lot of different looks, because what our defense does with that odd stack is very different."
Note: West Virginia is rewarding players on a practice-by-practice basis for such things as defensive and offensive player of the day, weight room warrior, academics and other aspects. They are recognized in front of the team and given candy bars, as much more is illegal under NCAA rules. Also, Rodriguez believes that WVU could have as many as eight to 10 newcomers that will battle for a slot in the two-deep. That should increase the intensity in summer workouts.
Rodriguez, on tailback Ed Collington: He is doing ok. I think coach Magee and myself would both like further steps. At times he takes a step forward, then a step back. He works hard and I think he will be fine.
On junior college transfer Ellis Lankster: "Typically, with the junior college guys, it takes a little longer to adjust, as it would any newcomer. Though they might have played a couple years, to us it is a rookie. Ellis is trying hard. It would be hard for a junior college guy that was not here in the spring, but if they are a hard worker and a smart worker, they will be fine. Our guys train year round, so they are never too far out of shape. The level of intensity and the amount our guys run is a lot different than many junior colleges. He needs to have a great summer, but when he is in shape and it being his second time around this fall he will be bale to contribute."
On wideout Wes Lyons: "He is still progressing. You have to remember it is still his first spring. We should not have too high of expectation, But at the same time Wes has some ability and he is a guy that is really important to us. If he can keep progressing and be a guy who continues to get better, he can help us. Everybody wants to anoint him as they guy, but he is not it yet. He can be, eventually. He will make up for mistakes, overthrows. When a guy is 6-7, 6-8 you can be a little off target. That's what happened today, he made a few catches that were off target. But he has to continue to get faster and work on his route running and play more physical. He is a big, strong guy. He has to learn how to use that physicality every day. That's something coach (Tony) Dews and I are working with him."
On Antonio Lewis: "He is doing pretty well. He has had a good spring, been pretty physical. We just need to him to be more consistent, and obviously the time is now for him. Vaughn (Rivers), Antonio and Larry (Williams, all corners) have been in the program for five years, so our leadership has to come from them. That could be good or bad. Antonio, though, really, whose enthusiasm is infectious. He loves to play football, and he comes to play every day. Ellis could learn a lot from Antonio. I hope those guys can feed off that."