Spring Practice Notebook: Day 1

Turns out that pushing spring practice back a few weeks wasn't a bad idea. With basketball season at West Virginia University ending only days before in the Final Four, the start of football practice in Morgantown made for a nifty transition between the school's two major sports -- and allowed for some beautiful weather at Milan Puskar Stadium.

Of course, it also didn't hurt that the late start also gave Geno Smith some extra time to recover from the broken bone in his foot, sustained early in the winter strength and conditioning process.

Smith was one of the first players on the turf for Tuesday evening's first practice session of the season, donning a green No. 9 jersey to signal his limited participation. He tossed balls in several drills, but did little in the way of footwork.

The rising sophomore, who will compete with incoming freshmen Jeremy Johnson and Barry Brunetti for the starting quarterback job this fall, donned athletic shoes (but no cleats). He practiced without the aid of any protective boot.

Smith looked solid in his time on the field, throwing an impressive strike down the left sideline to tight end Will Johnson for what would have been a gain of at least 30 yards on the first play of 7-on-7 drills.

He did not participate in 11-on-11 work, which concluded the practice. That allowed Coley White, the rising junior, to take all of the practice reps in that period.

White, who is expected to move to wide receiver in the fall once Brunetti and Johnson arrive in Morgantown, struggled Tuesday. He repeatedly threw balls well short of his intended target -- twice missing badly on screen passes, which hit the turf hard.

Those, and other mistakes from the offense, prompted coordinator Jeff Mullen to colorfully instruct his players to run specfic plays again.

  • Players donned shorts, helmets and "vests" for the first practice of the season. Thus, there was no hitting.

    They are expected to do the same for Wednesday's practice, before a day off Thursday and going into "shells" for Friday's session.

  • Beyond Smith, wide receiver Bradley Starks was also wearing a green jersey to signify his participation would be limited. It was unclear what, if any, injury issue Starks was dealing with -- though he warmed up by tossing lightly with the quarterbacks and ran most drills with the receivers.

    Defensive lineman Scooter Berry (who is recovering from offseason surgery), kicker Tyler Bitancurt and wide receiver Ryan Nehlen all were in red jerseys and did not participate in practice.

    Berry is recovering from shoulder issues, while Bitancurt "had a little thing in his ankle," according to head coach Bill Stewart. The head coach said Bitancurt likely could have kicked Tuesday, but is being held out a few extra days just for precautionary reasons because, as Stewart said, "I've seen him kick."

    That opened the door for transfer Corey Smith to take reps as both a placekicker and a punter.

  • In terms of position moves, the only surprises were the switch of Eddie Davis from defensive back to wide receiver. Davis wore his typical No. 3 jersey, but in white (which offensive players wear).

    It was unclear whether the move is just to temporarily provide some added depth in a thin receiving corps this spring or whether it could be more long-lasting.

    Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was Stewart saying receiver Tavon Austin would likely move from the slot positions, where he played last year as a true freshman, to a wider spot.

    Stewart said if the season had started Tuesday, he would have Austin at the "Z" receiver position, with Starks playing the "X" at the wide side on the opposite end of the field.

  • Noel Devine wasted little time in showing why fans should be excited for his senior season, scampering for what would have been a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of 11-on-11 drills.

    Devine burst through the middle of the line before cutting outside to his left and outrunning several defenders before the play was whistled dead by coaches.

  • New assistant coach Dave McMichael tried to get into the swing of things. Literally.

    The tight ends coach tried to assist with a pass-catching drill, where players run a short, straight-line route before "posting up" against a dummy held by one coach, turning and catching a pass, then turning upfield while being whacked with another dummy.

    McMichael was being chided for some weak swings with the dummy by both players and fellow assistant coach Lonnie Galloway.

    The wide receivers coach then grabbed the dummy and swung hard at tight end Tyler Urban to show McMichael how it was done. The new guy grinned and proceeded to swing with a bit more ferocity for the rest of the drill.

  • Coaches wasted little time making sure their messages were being heard, as three players ran the stadium steps for almost the entire duration of the two-hour workout.

  • Running backs appear to have a pair of new devices to work with this season.

    Equipment modeled to make players run through a series of spring-loaded arms (and, thus, work on securing the football) was in use Tuesday during positional drills -- as was a small "gate" modeled to force players to run with their pads low and their eyes forward.

    A new, portable on-field clock system was in place to keep track of which practice period the players were in and how much time remained.


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