Focused on Performance

With West Virginia's opener against Villanova just six days away, the Mountaineers have moved into game mode for this week's practice sessions. Chief on the mind of head coach Bill Stewart is the obligatory message to avoid chalking up any foe as an automatic win.

Stewart made it clear that the players and coaches are not taking Villanova lightly. He described the Wildcats of Villanova as a "tough Division 1AA opponent." He also mentioned that this week will be treated as any other week and that he expects his team to have some rust to scrape off on both sides of the ball, but that he also expects his team to be able to make adjustments in the game.

"It doesn't matter who the opponent is, I am looking to see what our football team does, if we come out and tackle, block, and play with a lot of effort, those will be the things that I am looking for from the team."

Stewart also answered questions about injured linebacker Reed Williams, and all answers were positive. Williams' recovery from offseason shoulder surgery is progressing better than expected and Stewart mentioned that Williams had fully participated in practices and is getting stronger. When asked about his status for the game Stewart did not directly answer if Williams would start in the Villanova game but did give indications that he could seem some playing time.

Aside from Williams there is good news on the injury front. Every player on the team aside from Williams is currently healthy and able to suit up for the Mountaineers come Saturday afternoon, according to the coach.

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Another important piece to the Mountaineer football team this season will be starting slot receiver Jock Sanders. Citing Sanders' versatility, Stewart had high praise for the sophomore starter.

"He is probably the most important player on our offense aside from Pat White because he can play so many positions and could even play quarterback if we asked him too."

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In spring practices Brandon Hogan saw a lot of time of the offensive side of the ball but when summer practices opened Hogan was moved from slot receiver to cornerback to help provide depth at a position of need for the defense. Rest assured that Brandon Hogan will have the ball in his hands as he and cornerback Ellis Lankster will both be back deep in a two-man formation to field punts on Saturday. Hogan is also in a mix of about four players to return kickoffs, although Stewart said he is undecided if he will be one of the starters on kick return.

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Stewart spoke about the secondary and his confidence in their athletic ability but also his concern for their lack of experience, "They are all good athletes but they don't have game experience and that will come." Look for the secondary to use their athletic ability to try and create more interceptions and pass break ups as news cornerbacks coach David Lockwood has stressed aggressive play.

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In an attempt to make the safeties more complete football players and to allow flexibility, assistant coach Steve Dunlap has taught his players each of the three safety positions: bandit safety, free safety and spur safety. This is a different philosophy from previous years, where each safety would specialize in only one of the safety positions. While each player certainly progresses at different speeds, this could provide for greater flexibility in case of injury. Boogie Allen, who has played all of these positions during his short WVU career, could be one player that gets moved around to fill a hole created by injury or subpar play.

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For his first regular season game as head coach at West Virginia, and his first with an established coaching staff, Stewart said that he plans to focus on the special teams and will not be involved with play calling.

"We have great coaches on the offensive and defensive side of the ball and I trust them to make the right calls," he explained.


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