Rod Report - Day XI

Fundamental work and scrimmage situations highlighted Wednesday's full-contact practice on Mountaineer Field, West Virginia's 11th of 14 during fall camp.

The Mountaineers went live for 75 minutes, moving the ball around for situational work on both hashes and inside the red zone. The session was decent, according to head coach Rich Rodriguez, who reiterated that WVU was not close to being ready to play a game. But, true to past training camp form, the coach's demeanor has improved a bit from the first week to the second, likely because of a combination of finer weather, better execution and solid, fundamental play.

"I am not going to panic because we have a lot of time, 16 days, before we play a game," Rodriguez said. "We have our last two-a-day (Thursday), unless I am not happy with Saturday's scrimmage. If I am not happy with that, we'll come back that night."

The scrimmage will conclude fall camp and lead into West Virginia's fan day, held Sunday. Freshmen will begin to move into residence halls and other housing Saturday evening after spending Friday night in a mock-game weekend setup. Freshmen and coaches will go to an area hotel to mimic what the night before a home game would be like, complete with meetings and other instruction. Among those players will be Noel Devine, Jock Sanders and Brandon Hogan, who are expected to see action this season.

One player on the opposite end of the eligibility spectrum, senior cornerback Antonio Lewis, sprained his shoulder and is expected to be out two weeks. He was battling Vaughn Rivers and Larry Williams for the starting corner slot. West Virginia has its best depth at corner and linebacker, so the injury, though it hurts, might not prove as detrimental as it could at other positions. Junior college transfer Ellis Lankster, Kent Richardson and Guesly Dervil are also competing for the two starting spots, though Rodriguez said he was not sure if all six players were ready to start.

The loss of Lewis - who could return by the Sept. 1 season opener versus Western Michigan but would have just two to three days of practice beforehand - affects WVU's return game as well. Lewis was competing with Rivers, Quinton Andrews, Darius Reynaud, Sanders and Devine, among others, on the punt return and kickoff return squads. And because NCAA rules changes have moved the ball back to the 30-yard line for kickoffs, there are expected to be more returns than ever before, one reason the Mountaineers are searching hard for an accompaniment to Reynaud, who ranked third in the Big East last season in all-purpose yardage and 15th in the nation kickoff return average.

Rodriguez reiterated that there is not two-deep, and likely would not be one until perhaps two days before the game. Even then, it would be subject to change at any time. Rodriguez, who said everything was tentative, will ask his coaching staff to formulate a base two-deep over the next 7-10 days that the team will utilize heading into the game week for WMU, just nine days away. The seventh-year coach is expecting to play more players this season than ever before. WVU is deeper at linebacker and in the secondary than at any time under Rodriguez.

"I am hoping (to play more athletes)," said Rodriguez, who admitted that the smaller selection of available players was due in the past both to a lack of depth and his own penchant for keeping his best on the field at all times. "I say that every year, but I think we will have more that we are ready to win with. I can't say right now we do, but in the next 10 days I am hoping that we do. Maybe we'll have 45 players we can win with as opposed to 25. … But I don't know why everybody has to have a two-deep, say this guy is here and this one's there. A guy can go from first string to fourth pretty fast."

Rodriguez did say he would play seven to eight wideouts if he thought they were good enough to win. If there were four or two, he would play four or two. Players should not be out there, Rodriguez said, if West Virginia cannot win with them, and of now the depth is not where the coaching staff would like it. It is, again, closer in the secondary and at linebacker than it has ever been.

"But if you are good enough, then it's our job to get you in there," Rodriguez said. "That's the biggest question: If you have plenty of guys to win with and you are in the flow of the game, when do you get them in there? We have been working on that a little more on defense. On defense you can play a few more people because of the execution. On the offensive line there is a lot of communication involved."

Quarterback is the one slot Rodriguez said was toughest to switch in and out because of its complexity and game feel. WVU might have up to four former signal callers in the game at any time, if one counts current wideouts Nate Sowers, Adam Bednarik and backup QB Jarrett Brown, who could see time in a slash role. That is unlikely, however.

West Virginia will drill twice on Thursday, the first morning session in pads. The afternoon practice will be full contact. Friday will be another full contact session, with Saturday's scrimmage the probable end to camp should the players perform well.

RIFLE REPORTS

Rodriguez said that Pat McAfee kicked the ball "really well" Wednesday. The coach said he had been punting ok.

"I think we got a good pool of special teams guys," Rodriguez said.

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He also noted that moving the ball back to the 30-yard line on kickoffs would cause more high-speed collisions.

"You are not going to practice kickoff and kickoff return much because of the nature of the play," Rodriguez said. "You have to put time in on it, but you have to be smart, too. That's the most dangerous play in football. You are getting 245 pound men who can run running full speed and gaining steam and running into somebody else the same size and speed. That's why (the new rule) doesn't make any sense. If you are going to add five or six seconds from the game, where is the safety in that?"

The coaching staff is preparing for a host of new strategies, from pooch or bloop kicking to attempting to squib the ball more. WVU might use McAfee's leg, and have him hit it into the end zone as much as he can. McAfee placed 66 percent of his kickoffs into the end zone last season. Fifty percent of them, overall, were not returned.

"Before, when you got it kicked out of bounds, you'd take it on the 35," Rodriguez said. "Now I am not so sure you do that. You might make them kick it from the 25 now. There are a lot more opportunities and a lot more collisions."

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Rodriguez was asked to what he attributed his pass defense's rank of 109 last season.

"Some of it was poor pass rush, some of it was poor coverage," Rodriguez said. "Some of it was not making plays. Some of it was they were throwing a lot because we were ahead. When you are down you are going to throw more. We did not defend the pass well, but it was a combination of things. Some games it was not as good, certainly, as we would like."

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For the first time, Rodriguez mentioned freshman offensive lineman Donny Barclay as having a chance to play this season. That is extremely rare for a true freshman, and might indicate as much a lack of depth as the readiness of the 6-4, 285-pounder from Cranberry, Pa. Barclay's uncle, Al Pisula, lettered at West Virginia in the 1970s.

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West Virginia has had to get more involved in its players' scheduling with the Morgantown traffic woes. Players can no longer make it from the Evansdale campus to a downtown class in 10-20 minutes, even if they were to catch the PRT at the perfect time. The freshmen often do not know this, so the academic staff has been ensuring that players have plenty of time between classes on different campuses.

"That's especially true with players living out and about," said Rodriguez, who did not have a car on campus until his senior year. "Our campus is probably a little different (in its setup). It makes it difficult. You're not going to drive downtown and find a parking spot. Our upperclassmen know how to handle it and they get enough spacing."


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