Spring Practice Report - Day Three

The wind whipped through Milan Puskar Stadium on a chilly St. Patrick's Day as the Mountaineers took the field wearing should pads, helmets, and shorts.

The wide receivers and quarterbacks broke off and practiced deep routes under the watchful eye of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jeff Mullen. The receivers ran go routes and post patterns with quarterbacks Pat White, Charlie Russell and Bradley Starks rotating in and out with each receiver.

While quarterbacks and receivers ran routes on one end of the field, the rest of the team practiced inside running drills on the other. Each quarterback rotated between throwing deep routes and handing the ball off while Noel Devine and Michael Poitier took the bulk of the snaps with the first team offense at running back.

After a break for the players to get re-hydrated, the receivers joined the offense to run passing drills. Again, White, Russell and Starks rotated in and out with the first, second and third units respectively while skill position mentors Mullen, Chris Beatty and Lonnie Galloway observed, barking out the occasional instruction or word of encouragement. Under the guidance of new secondary coach David Lockwood, the defensive backs practiced coverage schemes and closing on receivers, making the occasional big thud on would-be receivers which jarred an otherwise catchable pass loose.

Skill players squared off against the secondary and linebackers during seven on seven drills in a down and distance setting with each unit taking snaps attempting to move the ball downfield. The highlight of the seven on seven drills was a bone-rattling hit laid on defensive lineman turned fullback Thor Merrow by senior safety Charles Pugh that knocked Merrow's helmet off and into the air. Just plays later Pugh again stepped up and laid another hard hit on wide receiver Will Johnson, forcing an incompletion in the process.

On the offensive side of the ball wide receiver Brandon Hogan, working with the first-team offense in the slot, caught a 30-yard pass from White on a post-corner route after middle linebacker Anthony Leonard fell down. Later, redshirt freshman quarterback Charlie Russell hooked up with wide receiver Alric Arnett in the back corner of the end zone for a 30-yard pass while working with the second unit.

Perhaps the most surprising big play of the day came from Merrow, working on offense for just the third day of his collegiate career. Merrow took a handoff and busted up the middle for a big gain, drawing a rousing cheer from his new teammates on the offensive sideline and a hearty laughter from his former defensive colleagues in blue.

The team ended practice with the entire offense and defense on the field in a game-like setting with coaches signaling in plays from the sideline. The offense practiced their hurry-up offense for the first time this spring despite not being completely familiar with the new terminology installed by Mullen. Though only the third day of practice, intensity was running high as multiple scuffles broke out during team drills. Part of this is undoubtedly attributed to the first day of partial pads being worn as the Mountaineers had only worn helmets, shirts and shorts in the first two drill sessions this past weekend.

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As is custom, several coaching staffs from around the country will be in and out of Morgantown throughout spring drills observing the Mountaineers. Making their way to Mountaineer Field on Monday were coaches from Akron, Georgia Southern and James Madison.

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Among the players who have added noticeable bulk to their frames are wide receiver Will Johnson and linebacker Anthony Leonard. Johnson was expected to be a key contributor to the offense last season after an impressive showing in fall camp as a true freshman, but injuries ultimately limited his contributions for much of the year. If he can remain healthy through the spring, Johnson could be in a position to make some noise on the depth chart at wide receiver where new position coach Lonnie Galloway is looking for some much-needed depth behind veterans Dorrell Jalloh and Tito Gonzales.

With starting middle linebacker Reed Williams sidelined all spring following offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder, Leonard could have an opportunity to earn valuable reps as well. The McKeesport, Pa. product was running with the first unit on Monday alongside returning strongside ‘backer Mortty Ivy and sophomore J.T. Thomas.

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With shells (shoulder pads and helmets) being worn, the offensive and defensive lines were able to square off in individual drills for the first time this spring. Defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich must find a number of players to fill the ranks in his unit which was decimated by the graduation of four-year starter Keilen Dykes as well as standout defensive end Johnny Dingle, who opted to turn pro a year early after a banner season in 2007.

One player to keep an eye on might be redshirt freshman Julian Miller, who repped at both end and tackle on Monday. Miller has tremendous quickness and potential, but must continue to refine his technique in the trenches while also continuing to gain weight.

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West Virginia will hold its fourth workout of the spring on Wednesday afternoon. Wednesday's practice will be the final drill session before WVU's spring recess, which is scheduled to begin on Friday.

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