Making A Motion

Ask most Mountaineer fans, and they'll tell you they're happy that West Virginia's offense for 2008 will feature motion. What they, and most everyone else overlooks, however, is the difficulty of adding that feature to its attack.

On the surface, it would seem to be a simple matter. Tell a receiver or back to move before the snap, and get the play underway, right? Wrong. There's much more to it than that, and what's worse, it has to be perfected before more advanced aspects of the offense can be looked at and smoothed out.

The man in charge of installing the offense, and the new motion features, is coordinator Jeff Mullen. He's confident that the attack molded by the offensive staff will work, but is also realistic that it's not going to be functioning at peak efficiency in the first week of August.

"It's still a work in progress," Mullen said by way of evaluation. "We've got a couple of kids who didn't go through spring practice, and a couple that didn't even go through the summer, so we have some issues out there."

Mullen was referring to running back Terence Kerns and slot back D.J. Thomas, both of whom arrived after the completion of the uncoached summer workout sessions. While those drills didn't feature all of the motion that WVU's offense will showcase this year, it did provide the opportunity to get familiar with some of the concepts. Thus, when WVU hit the field on August 2, there was still much to learn and get comfortable with.

While the timing of the motion is of concern, it wasn't even job one, according to Mullen. That was something even more mundane.

"Shoot, just getting lined up right is tough," the first-year WVU assistant explained. "It all starts there. Then they are hearing terms that they have never heard before, and that's just after getting knocked in the face by a big guy on defense. Just getting that down is tough. Once that happens, muscle memory starts to kick in and help with the rest."

Most people don't consider the challenge of getting lined up in the right spot, but it, like many other simple tasks, has its own challenges. Receivers and backs have to get the right number of yards away from the ball so that the timing of each play, and any presnap motion or adjustment, is the same each time. Since the ball can be anywhere from hashmark to hashmark, a player could be lined up at different spots on the field on any given play. If a certain set calls for a receiver to be 12 yards down the line, for example, he has to quickly gauge that distance and get in the right spot -- often, as Mullen notes, after getting whacked by a defender with bad intentions. Then he has to go in motion and get to his assigned spot at the right point in the cadence in order to give the play a chance of success.

In order to cram as many repetitions as possible into the avialable practice time, Mullen often stacks three or four players at each position into the same walk through rep during pre-practice.

"We're doing those reps in a walk through setting. That's a situation where it's on the field classroom time," Mullen said. " It's a good opportunity to get everyone involved without having anyone stand around."

While WVU still has a long way to go to hone motion into the weapon it hopes to be, Mullen does see signs of encouragement.

"We have gotten a lot better after the first four practices, when we installed the whole offense. On the fifth day we didn't install anything new, so there was some recall with the young kids and that showed."

So consider, as you watch West Virginia's first snaps from scrimmage this fall, the work that went in to making the new offense go. Behind each one of those sets and movements -- things that look so simple -- are hours of practice and preparation time. And that's even before the ball is snapped.

Of course, WVU has a couple of aces in the hole, Patrick White and Noel Devine, that it can fall back on. Veterans in the offense, the pair will be the keys off which many of the backs and receivers play, and will be counted on to get everyone in the right place.

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