Spring Football Practice Opens

The first spring practice session of the Bill Stewart era was a wet one, as a steady drizzle socked Mountaineer Field and all those who were on it Friday afternoon.

But combined with relatively mild temperatures, the rain did little to slow down West Virginia's one hour and forty-five minute practice session.

WVU worked on a variety of things during its first day of spring drills, including the vertical passing game that new offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen promises will be more a part of West Virginia's attack than it was in the past.

For the most part, Friday's practice moved smoothly, which in itself was a good sign since there were seven new assistant coaches on the field, to say nothing of the fact that just two returning starters on defense were able to work out full go (linebacker Mortty Ivy and defensive back Quinton Andrews). West Virginia graduated seven defensive starters from last year's Fiesta Bowl champions, but senior-to-be linebacker Reed Williams is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, and he won't be participating in any contact work this spring. Also, sophomore defensive lineman Scooter Berry is still recovering from knee problems that plagued him at times last year. He'll get in work this spring, but the WVU training staff will watch him carefully, and he did only light work in Friday's drills.

Friday was a non-contact practice day for the Mountaineers, who will again work out in just shorts, jerseys and helmets Saturday morning. They'll be in shells next Monday (helmets, shoulder pads but just shorts) and will wear full pads on Wednesday for a full contact practice. After that, Stewart's club will not practice again until March 31, as WVU will have the week of March 22-30 off for spring break. The Mountaineers will resume with their spring drills on March 31, and they will have 10 more practice sessions from that point over the course of the next three weeks before culminating spring drills with the Gold-Blue Intrasquad Scrimmage on Saturday, April 19. That spring game on the 19th is the only practice session open to the public.

Beside Berry and Williams, there were a few other Mountaineers who were dressed in red or green jerseys Friday, which indicated injuries that limited their practice participation. Tight end Sam Morrone, offensive guard Greg Isdaner, center Mike Dent, offensive tackle Jon Walko and offensive guard Derek Hayes are each recovering from a variety of injuries that they've been rehabbing since last season. Those players are expected to see little work this spring. In addition, redshirt freshman safety Evan Rodriguez was also decked out in a green jersey on Friday, but he participated in most of the practice drills.

Offensively, the only player absent, besides those listed above, was wide receiver Dorrell Jalloh. The senior broadcast journalism major is participating in a class trip this weekend to Boston for a communication course he is taking this semester, and Stewart excused his absence.

Though obviously practice is just getting underway, WVU's offensive playmakers already had some shining moments. Pat White threw a number of impressive deep balls, connecting with Tito Gonzales, Brandon Hogan and Wes Lyons for long gains during seven-on-seven sessions. Running back Noel Devine and slot receiver Jock Sanders also looked good in the non-contact drills, as did freshman quarterback Charlie Russell.

In off the field news, Devine and Sanders, as well as defensive teammates Brantwon Bowser and Eain Smith, recently pleaded no contest in Morgantown Municipal Court to misdemeanor battery charges stemming from a fight outside an area nightclub on Feb. 16. Coach Stewart said in a release, "Discipline with the situation has already been handled within the program." All four participated in practice on Friday.

On the field, the defensive play of the day was a diving interception by Mortty Ivy. But this wasn't necessarily a day about big plays. This was more of a starting point, adapting to the many new faces on defense and within the coaching staff. Stewart was pleased with the early results.

"That was a fun first day," said the New Martinsville, W.Va., native. "If you noticed at the end of practice there, the young men gave the coaching staff a round of applause. It was really neat for a football team to applaud their coaches for having such an impressive first practice. It was fast, but we got a lot of work down. I know we only worked out in shorts, but they were flying around.

"We worked a lot on our passing game today, probably about 60-40 compared to the run. We wanted to emphasize the passing game. We worked a lot on deep balls, crossing routes and underneath floods. It was very impressive.

"I also saw some good things from our defense. Mortty Ivy was flying around, and our secondary was really active. It was a good day."

So day one is in the books for the Bill Stewart era. There are 14 more such practice sessions ahead this spring for WVU's first-year head coach and his new staff to get acquainted with the Mountaineer players.

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