Rod Report - Day III

West Virginia showed fewer mental mistakes in its first day wearing shoulder pads. But the Mountaineers also suffered an injury to one of its Heisman hopefuls.

Tailback Steve Slaton "tweaked an ankle," according to head coach Rich Rodriguez, but completed nearly every drill until the last 20 minutes. Slaton appeared fine in the post-workout interviews and he is expected to fully recover within 48 hours. The injury comes two days after starting quarterback Patrick White suffered a back injury. Neither player ran on the first day of drills, as the coaching staff allowed the duo to ease into the practices while focusing on the newcomers.

The weather was more cooperative on Monday after it rained for nearly the entire practice on Sunday. Highs in the 90s with stifling humidity helped further condition players entering the final three sessions before the first two-a-days, which will be held Thursday. Rodriguez said that because some players have classes that day, the team might have to fit in the first practice "very, very early" on Thursday morning, then return at its normal time for the latter drills. Monday's practice was termed "ok" by the seventh-year coach, meaning West Virginia likely performed reasonably well.

The major look at this point is at the wideout slots, where WVU is searching for additional help for Darius Reynaud. Rodriguez moved the slot receivers under running backs coach and offensive coordinator Calvin Magee. First-year assistant Tony Dews is still coaching the outside wideouts, or the X and Z positions, manned by Wes Lyons and Tito Gonzales to start. Rodriguez said the move was very basic, since West Virginia has so many players – like superback Steve Slaton – that play both in the backfield and in the slots. Newcomer Noel Devine will get a look in the slot spot, as will former starting quarterback Adam Bednarik, who is trying to get on the field in any way possible in his final season of eligibility. The Bethlehem, Pa. native strained his back weightlifting but is expected to fully recover.

The receiver positions are where Roriguez said most of the "five to six" freshmen he expects to play will likely break in to the two- or thre-deep. Devine is surely one of those, as would be Will Johnson and Brandon Hogan, who many players have been impressed with three days into drills. Jock Sanders could see time as a kick returner, while newcomers Anthony Wood (cornerback) and Ryan Mundy (safety) battle for playing time on defense.

Rodriguez said he was particularly pleased with his special teams over the first two days, specifically his long snapping and holding duo of Adam Hughes and Jeremy Kash. Hughes was well within his target range of a few inches to the left or right on snaps to the holder as well as directly to Pat McAfee and Scott Kozlowski on punts. Kash and backup holder Carmen Connolly have performed well, and McAfee noted he had no complaints about either. McAfee is the No. 1 place kicker and punter with walk-on Chris Glenn, a senior, and Kozlowski, a junior, respectively behind the Plum, Pa. native.

There was a problem with the backup centers snapping high or low. That was an issue on the initial day of camp on Saturday and continued throughout Sunday, though some of that could be attributed to the downpour. Rodriguez said the centers, Eric Jobe and Gino Gradkowski, were out on the field practicing 50 snaps for every bad one in practice. "There are no limitations on camp practices," Rodriguez said.

Nose guard Chris Neild returned to practice with larger shoes after a pair that were too tight caused bruising and the sophomore to miss WVU's second practice. Wes Lyons remains a bit beat up with his nagging knee injury. There were no other injuries reported by Rodriguez. WVU will practice again in shells on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"It's too early to tell much of anything," Rodriguez said. "I don't know about you, but I look pretty good in shorts. I think everyone looks good in shorts. We'll know more in a few days. We want to test guys to see who will wilt and who will fight through it."


Rodriguez noted that the ability of the quarterbacks to run was a sort of safety valve for Slaton. Teams cannot stack the box, eyeing solely the running back and forgetting to play straight up on White. That allows Slaton and White more freedom, as both remove pressure and full focus off one another.

"You have to have options," Rodriguez said. "People say we are one dimensional. But if you have two guys that can run, or you have a quarterback that can run, you are at least two dimensional. And we have a fullback that we like to run, so that is three dimensions. There is more variety there than people give credit for.

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The coach also said that this is likely the fastest team in terms of overall speed he has coached at West Virginia. The defense can run as well as it ever has, and with White, Slaton and Reynaud – who Rodriguez terms "more explosive than fast" – the Mountaineers should be able to match speed against anybody.

"But it's more about game speed and making people miss than just pure overall speed," Rodriguez said. "If you look at Slaton and White, however fast they are without pads on, they get faster (in comparison) when they put the pads on. If they are running away from people without pads, they do it with pads as well. Sometimes you can get an idea if a guy can do that by watching film. But you have to know the level of competition, who he is running away from. Other times you just get lucky and they get here and get on the field and you can see them make plays. Really, if you can get here and make plays in space, you are probably a player and are going to see time. There is a difference in just pure speed and speed in a game."

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Rodriguez was asked if, like in past seasons, members of his coaching staff or others supposedly close to the program would claim that West Virginia would pass more.

"I don't know. Maybe we will, maybe we won't," Rodriguez said. "Stay tuned. … Pat White is pretty good at (recognizing what WVU is trying to do). He knows what defenses are trying to do to stop us as well."

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