Rod Report - Day XIV

The 2007 Mountaineers concluded preseason football camp on Saturday afternoon with a two-hour scrimmage in front of media members and invited donors.

Overall, the scrimmage was probably about average. The work was split up between live play and in-game situations such as goalline work and starting a drive inside the five yardline.

"I thought it was ok," said seventh-year head coach Rich Rodriguez of the final workout before classes begin on Monday. "I thought there was better execution defensively than offensively. We had some guys make some plays.

"The most disappointing part was probably the unforced errors – like the center-quarterback exchanges," he continued. "It was with the second group, but it should not happen. There were also a couple fumbles and an interception that should never happen. We had a few procedure penalties up front."

Of course turnovers are two-fold. For the offense, the turnovers on Saturday were obviously frustrating. On the other side of the ball, however, they could build some confidence for the Mountaineer defenders.

"I think it was important for them to get a little confidence," Rodriguez said of his defense, which at least on Saturday appeared to be much improved over last year's unit. "I would prefer it was not us throwing right to them. I would prefer it was a great play as opposed to a bad decision. I think it was more bad decisions. I thought we caught the ball defensively."

Confidence was certainly evident in the play of several defenders on Saturday. Senior safety Eric Wicks was all over the field, tackling everyone from Owen Schmitt to Jock Sanders. Ellis Lankster, the junior college transfer competing for a starting position at cornerback, out-jumped 6'8" receiver Wes Lyons for a ball at the goalline. Sophomore Quinton Andrews scooped up a fumble and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown.

"We have enough athletes back there," Rodriguez noted. "You take a hit back there when everybody beats on you for five, six seventh months saying you are not very good. I think those guys will try to prove otherwise. They will get challenged, and get challenged early. Western Michigan will spread you out and throw it all over the place. We have to be ready first game."

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One position of concern for Rodriguez is center. Junior Mike Dent will start, but the spot remains wide open on the second team.

"I think Mike Dent has gotten better there," he said. "I am pretty confident in him. We have to get a backup center. You don't want it to be a true freshman, but it may be, whoever the best guy is. And we have to get more depth. I am not sure the second group is progressing like I would like it to be on the line. That is a concern. They will get it."

True freshmen Gino Gradkowski and Donny Barclay shared reps at center on Saturday with starting left guard Greg Isdaner.

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In the competition to backup All-American Steve Slaton, rookies Noel Devine and Jock Sanders continue to impress. Sanders ripped of several nice runs on Saturday, and showed a good combination of speed and strength. Devine showed flashes of his potential as well, and scored a touchdown during red zone work.

"The two freshmen obviously are the guys we are repping there," said the head coach. "Jock Sanders and Noel Devine are right there behind Steve Slaton. Those guys are the guys that will get the majority of the reps this week. They will be our No. 2 guys along with Owen Schmitt, in certain situations."

Both players will also likely contribute to the return game. Devine recorded a 37-yard kickoff return during Saturday's scrimmage, while Sanders ripped off an impressive punt return.

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At receiver, the picture is becoming somewhat more clear, but questions remain.

"I think we have got a guy or two that can be explosive," Rodriguez said. "Darius Reynaud is one. We are still looking for a couple others. There are some guys who can be that, but they have not shown it yet. That's why we put Adam Bednarik out there. We are going to find the right mix out there somehow in the next two weeks."

Bednarik may not be a prototypical wideout, but his knowledge of the offense and exceptional athletic ability will give him a good opportunity to contribute with the first team.

"He has great ball skills," Rodriguez said of Bednarik, who will continue to get some . "He has enough strength to get open. Everybody wants that fast guy, but you can have that and if he has hands like feet it doesn't do any good."

The first-team receivers on Saturday consisted of Reynaud, with juniors Tito Gonzales and Dorrell Jalloh on the outside. Freshmen Will Johnson and Brandon Hogan also saw snaps with the first team.

"You have to have somebody who can go get the ball, can go catch it," Coach Rod explained. "Not many people have that one great guy out there. We did not have that guy last year at times, but Brandon Myles came through. Who is going to replace those big plays he made last year? That's what we are looking for in the next two weeks."

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Now that fall camp has concluded, the daily schedule will see a big adjustment for Mountaineer players. Classes and study hall will now take up as much time as practices and team meetings. For the veterans, this will not be much of an adjustment. For the newcomers, it could result in a bit of culture shock.

"Any coach will tell you, when school starts you have a lot of distractions," explained Rodriguez, himself a WVU student during the 1980's. "We have 27,500 students. Over half of them are female. You got distractions. You have to become a student-athlete. Go to class, go to study hall, tutors. I talked to the freshman about that because they are moving into the dorms. I talked to the Apostles, our senior leaders, about what they are supposed to do.

"I can't follow 130 guys around campus 24 hours a day," he continued. "They have to make the right decisions and keep their focus. We talked about that at length: Keep your focus, know what you are here for and not getting distracted. Every year you worry about that. This week is the week to worry about the most because the student body, a lot of them don't have tests, they don't have home work. So they go to class for a few hours and what do they do? Our guys can't afford to run around and play around. Our guys have 11:00 curfew tonight. People hanging around them in the dorm or downtown, they don't have curfew. Our guys have to be different."

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Finally, Sunday afternoon will be Fan Day at the Caperton Indoor Practice Facility. The event will begin at 2:00, with the doors opening 15 minutes prior.

Fans are limited to one autograph item per player, and have been asked to not pose for pictures with players and coaches in order to keep everything moving.

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