"I thought we would be a little further ahead than we are now," Rodriguez said. "That's not from an installation standpoint. I am pleased with that. We have got plenty of stuff in on offense and defense. But we are not executing. But we have two weeks. Today, the first half of practice we practiced like a last-place team. In the second half, we practiced like a team that wants to compete for first place. They picked it up in the second half, which was better."
The practices overall were similar, Rodriguez said, to a lot of other years. But the expectations are so much higher that similar is no longer good enough. The team has been attentive in meetings, and, despite the perception of many fans, the injuries have not been more numerous than other camps. And there have been no major ones thus far, a relief for any staff and team with two weeks left to prepare for the season opener.
"We are at the point where we are going to take everybody's best shot when they play us," Rodriguez said. "It's a big game. Not that it changes what we do, but they have to be prepared for that mentally."
Game preparation for the Sept. 1 contest against Western Michigan will begin in the middle of next week. The travel squad and scout team will likely be set by then as well. WVU utilized Friday's practice and the Saturday scrimmage as a game week setup. The Mountaineers will travel to an area hotel tonight and hold meetings just as though the scrimmage were a regular game. Three buses awaited the team outside the Puskar Center at 5:30 p.m. The seniors are expected to give talks about what it means to play West Virginia football.
Rodriguez also announced that there would be additional walk-ons to the team. There will be 15 in camp that were on the team in the spring, along with four to five new players as well. West Virginia will hold its annual student body tryout Wednesday at 6 a.m. It is open to any current WVU student. The Mountaineers have kept several players from past tryouts, including former lineman Damien Crissey, former special teams standout James Woodruff, current backup place kicker Chris Glenn and quarterback Markell Harrison, who led the team on a scoring drive late in the game against Eastern Washington last season. WVU will carry between 125-130 players. Rodriguez will have the exact count by the end of next week.
The coaches are still learning all the names of the players. Rodriguez said he knows them all, but it is tougher for position coaches, because they are involved with their own units. The staff has been quizzed on names and faces as well.
The most significant turnover of now is special teams. West Virginia does punt and field goal everyday, then works another area into its drill sessions. The players are changing daily in the unit. Linebacker Pat Lazear is expected to play there, as well as many other true freshmen. After WVU drills live on special teams Saturday, it will know which players fit in certain positions. The freshmen and newcomers who have a chance to play this season are: Lazear, a linebacker, LB Archie Sims, S Sidney Glover, DB Anthony Wood, FS Ryan Mundy, S Eain Smith, RB/WR Noel Devine, RB/WR Jock Sanders, WR Brandon Hogan, WR Will Johnson, C Donny Barclay and C Gino Gradkowski.
"They can play in a limited role," Rodriguez said of the freshmen. "We would have to diminish the package when they are in there because they are learning. I have been impressed with them so far. The scrimmage will be important for some of those guys because they will be under a game situation."
The reserve center spot continues to be a concern. Barclay and Gradkowski are getting reps there, but, thus far, West Virginia does not have a surefire backup. Both are true freshmen, and the importance of making calls and their relative lack of experience is an issue.
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Vaughn Rivers and Darius Reynaud are the top two return players on both kickoff and punt. Also working there are Quinton Andrews, Ellis Lankster, Devine and Sanders. Devine is catching only kickoffs. Cornerback Antonio Lewis, out with a sprained shoulder, will work there when he returns in two weeks.
"Any coach will tell you that that is the most nerve-wracking aspect of the first game," Rodriguez said. "That's why you have to practice it. You really don't go live very much on special teams. It's scary when you first get out there (in a real game).
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Linebacker Marc Magro returned and went through almost every drill Friday. The senior, recovering from mono, is expected to play in the scrimmage. Magro is on medication and is getting stronger. He is far past the contagious stage.
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Hogan, a freshman from Osbourne High (Manassas, Va.), sprained a ligament in his left thumb. It is not expected to be a concern by the season opener. Hogan is also expected to play in the scrimmage, but could be limited.