It's one week down and three to go for the West Virginia football team. We look back at week one of preseason practice with this compendium of notes and observations.
WVU got its first taste of the new 40-second play clock with officials in Saturday's scrimmage, and for the most part the Mountaineer offense passed the test. On a couple of occasions, the pressure was on to get a play off before the clock expired, but the quarterbacks got everyone lined up and the play underway before the clock expired.
Under the new rule, the 40-second play clock starts automatically as soon as the previous play is whistled dead.
When head coach Bill Stewart jokes about "Muscle Beach" being open at Mountaineer Field, it's anything but for the players forced to take up residence there. Injure players who aren't cleared to practice have to undergo various exercise, including bear crawls, weight pulls and stationary bike rides – none of which are anywhere close to fun. The idea, of course, is to motivate players to return to active status as soon as possible. It's clear that Stewart, in his own way, believes that at least a couple of those currently touring the beach need to get back to real football practice as soon as possible.
Former Mountaineer running back Jason Colson has the busiest schedule imaginable these days. In addition to holding down a job with AIG and playing football for the West Virginia Gladiators, Colson is also finishing up his master's degree at WVU.
Other former players spotted around the practice field this week included Undra Johnson, Willie Edwards, Chad Johnson and Curlin Beck.
Big plays from Saturday's officiated scrimmage weren't numerous. Patrick White had a 55-yard run and completed a 45-yard pass to Tyler Urban. Terence Kerns had a 40-yard run (he was tracked down by free safety Robert Sands) and also had probably his best overall practice performance to date. Alric Arnett also showed a burst of what WVU is searching for at the wide receiver spot when he took a short pass and whirled up the sideline for a 15-yard gain, and Jock Sanders .
Defensively, WVU's speed is evident. Backs and receivers simply can't turn the corner on West Virginia's second level defenders, and it doesn't matter whether it's the first or second team. It's too bad that WVU can't play something like a 3-5-3 defense, because it could easily put five linebackers on the field that could play for any team in the league.
The penalty situation was pretty good during the first scrimmage. Three illegal procedure penalties were the only noted violations against the offense, while one offside and one facemask were the violations committed by the defense. With motion added to the offense, one of the concerns is that the offense will be more rushed to get its plays off with the new timing rules. Although the offense cut it close a few times, it appears to be getting its calls in and players lined up quickly enough to avoid major problems. Timing of the motion on those plays is still a work in progress, however.
Anthony Leonard had the hit of the day on defense when he stuffed Kerns on a third and two play short of the first down. With only three touchdowns yielded during the scrimmage, which included a third down series from the 35-yard line going in and another set in the red zone from the eight, the defense had the upper hand. Defensive end Zac Cooper wasn't happy with the entire day, however.
"Flat," was his initial assessment. "We came out flat and we made a lot of mistakes. I don't think we did very good, but we ended a lot stronger than we started. We have a lot of work we need to get done."
Cooper wasn't pointing any fingers at his teammates. He blamed himself for allowing White to get free on the long fun, and fired off a list of improvements he needs to make on his own game.
"I have to work on my technique, staying on the quarterback, on my hands, it's a long list of things I need to get perfected."
Even on scrimmage days, proper technique is emphasized and reinforced. One of the litanies the running backs and receivers hear every day is. "Keep your wrist above your elbow." That's the form that the coaches want to see from those carrying the ball. It helps keep the ball locked in the proper position against the chest.
It would be a shock to see anyone other than Ellis Lankster win the starting punt return job. He catches the ball a bit more smoothly than any of his competitors, and simply looks the most comfortable in getting to the ball, putting it away, and getting up the field.
Pat McAfee continued his impressive kicking show with a 48-yard field goal that not only split the uprights, but was nearly level with the top of them when it went through.