Rod Report – XI

It wasn't the stuff of brilliance, but it was better than what immediately preceded it. According to head coach Rich Rodriguez, there wasn't anywhere else to go.

West Virginia frontloaded its kicking, working punt, punt return, kickoff and kickoff return within the first half hour of the 90-plus minute session because of the threat of rain. It did shower briefly, then held off, so the Mountaineers remained outside throughout, getting work in both situationally and in base, full-scale modes. The offense got the better of the action early, then was slowed by the defense somewhat when WVU went into red zone work.

The kickoff and kickoff return segments were important, as West Virginia has been unable to practice those areas as much due to weather forcing action inside. The new NCAA rule changes state kickoffs will be from the 30-yard line instead of the 35 and that tees will be lowered, so coaches expect there to be more returns, something all teams are prepping for in the spring. Within the punt scheme, WVU is still using the spread formation with three up-blockers and a rugby or traditional style and trying a multitude of returners, including Vaughn Rivers, Antonio Lewis, Nate Sowers, Darius Reynaud and transfer Ellis Lankster, a cornerback who handled special teams skill duty in junior college.

The remainder of the practice was devoted to 11-on-11 sessions varying from the 60-yard line to placing the ball on the 45- and 25-yard lines. The first, second and third teams all got snaps against their corresponding counterparts, and the offense got the better of early action with the defense rallying late.

"It wasn't the best scrimmage you could have," Rodriguez said. "It was pretty physical and there was some hitting. It was all right, not overly spectacular execution-wise. I thought we did some things well and some things poorly. That doesn't mean things can't be corrected. I'll be better able to judge after watching the film. It was better than yesterday. It had to be."

Rodriguez called yesterday's practice the worst of the 10 West Virginia held this spring, noting that he didn't like anything from the time the team stretched to when it left the field. The offense played much better today, punching in multiple times on the defense early before getting held off later, when it as inside the red zone. The execution still didn't reach the upper echelon, however.

"We had a few penalties, had a few drops," Rodriguez said. "Most of the penalties came with the second-team offensive line, and they really haven't had as much time together. We only have six scholarship linemen practicing. I saw a couple good things. I thought it was physical, good hits and good plays. I think we had made steps and are doing different things. We are challenging the secondary. I'd like to be able to challenge the secondary with the Wide receivers. That play has to get better. I think the guys on def are giving pretty good effort."

West Virginia continues to utilize its tailbacks in the slot receiver positions. The backs routinely realign outside of the tight end, where they can get into space better and get the ball already outside the box, facing minimal line pressures. That has proven effective in the past, and could really be upped with the addition of incoming freshman Jock Sanders, a jitterbug wideout out of St, Petersburg Catholic who has great field vision and burst, traits perfectly suited to WVU's slot play.

Our tailbacks can play the slot and we can move guys around," Rodriguez said. "We did some of that with Steve Slaton last year, and we would have done more of it if he would have had two healthy hands. And Pat made a couple nice passes and earlier he had a couple he might want to get back. But we know Pat, and part of that hurt the defense (because he cannot be tackled to the turf for safety reasons). Their strength is not tagging someone but tackling them. There were a couple times we blew the whistle where Pat was tagged. Tagged, but I'm not sure he was tackled."

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