Spring Practice Notebook: Day 9

After a few days of ebb and flow in practice, a bit of order was established in the Mountaineers' session on Wednesday evening. With players wearing full pads once again, it was the blue-clad defense, which many expected to dominate the spring, that ruled the day.

How much of that was the result of the effort from coordinator Jeff Casteel's charges(and how much of it was attributable to poor play on the opposite side of the ball) was difficult to determine.

But there was little doubt that West Virginia's 3-3-5 was at it most effective thus far this spring, no matter what the reason.

It started in the pass "skeleton" drill, where injured quarterback Geno Smith continued to take every rep.

But Smith had perhaps his worst day of the spring, repetitively missing open receivers and making poor decisions about where the throw the ball at times.

It started early in the "skeleton" -- a 7-on-7 drill where the offense and defense go against each other without linemen involved. Smith was nearly intercepted by Derek Knight on a pass intended for tight end Will Johnson in the end zone. Johnson was double-covered on the play, and only a dropped ball by Knight prevented a pick.

Briefly, the rising sophomore signal-caller seemed to rally himself. On the very next play, he calmly threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Davis.

But that was one of few bright spots on the afternoon for Smith. A few plays later, he finally was picked off -- this time by reserve Tyler Anderson -- in the end zone.

That seemed to change things for Smith. He badly missed an open Noel Devine on a simple screen pass toward the sideline, throwing the ball well over the diminutive running back's head.

Then came another near interception, as safety Eain Smith failed to cleanly catch what would have been a pick in the end zone.

Later, Johnson was the intended target on a pass towards the corner of the end zone, and had worked his way open, only to watch the pass fly over his head as well.

Ditto for Tavon Austin, who had come open cleanly and was almost completely uncovered on a "fly" pattern towards pay-dirt; Smith's pass was far out of reach for the speedy receiver.

Smith did recover in time to end his part of practice with another touchdown pass, this time to Stedman Bailey, also of about 20 yards.

In stepped Coley White, the quarterback tasked with running the offense in 11-on-11 drills, as doctors and coaches won't allow Smith to participate then for fear his injured foot would be stepped on, and thus, further hurt.

He fared little better. Sidney Glover intercepted one of his passes early on a ball that appeared to deflect off multiple WVU players (perhaps even including someone's foot) before coming to rest in the safety's hands.

Just a few plays later, linebacker Casey Vance got into the act, making an impressive play of his own to dive to the Milan Puskar Stadium turf and come up with an interception of his own.

The defense also set the tone physically on the day.

Vance, a Mountain State native and product of Petersburg High School, drew some attention with a pad-popping hit on Andrew Goldbaugh in the skeleton drill. A trio of defenders, including safety Robert Sands and cornerback Pat Miller, teamed up for a big hit on the tight end Johnson in 11-on-11 work.

As practice wound down, a pass from White was badly overthrown into an area of the field where no receivers were even present. The ball fell harmlessly to the turf between three defenders, perhaps summing up what was a frustrating day for the West Virginia offense.


  • Cornerback and punt returner Brandon Hogan participated in Wednesday's drills, just days after being cited for disorderly conduct and public urination in Morgantown.

    Head coach Bill Stewart did not comment on Hogan's situation in the immediate aftermath of the practice.

  • Linebacker Branko Busick was added to the list of those limited by injury, as the Steubenville, Ohio native donned a red jersey and was held out of practice Wednesday.

    Beyond that, little changed in terms of who was wearing the Christmas-colored jerseys. Fellow linebacker J.T. Thomas and kicker Tyler Bitancurt were in green, as was running back Shawne Alston.

    Defensive lineman Scooter Berry, Busick and receiver Ryan Nehlen were among the notable players in red.

  • Among those in attendance, watching practice from the sidelines was former WVU coach Don Nehlen.

    The long-time Mountaineer mentor chatted on the turf with long-time program assistants Donnie Young and Mike Kerin, among others, as drills continued on the field.

  • Kicker Corey Smith had one of his better days on field goals, as the Alabama transfer made a point-after attempt and four of his five field goal tries during "live" kicking exercises near the beginning of practice.

    Smith was good from 29, 32, 34 and 46 yards. His lone miss came from the right hash, 39 yards away. The kick had plenty of leg but was just wide to the right.

    That was in contrast to previous days, as noted by defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich, who doubles as one of the coaches in charge of the field goal block team.

    Before practice ever started, Kirelawich chided Bitancurt about continuing to be held out of practice. In response, the kicker admired the way the block team had been giving Smith fits. Kirelawich wasn't quick to give the same praise to his players.

    "If they kick any lower," Kirelawich said to Bitancurt, deadpanning, "they'd take our heads off."

    Punting work was a bit less promising, as both Smith and presumptive starter Greg Pugnetti struggled to consistently get much on kicks out of their own end zone. The best punt for each kicker traveled about 40 yards in the air before being fielded.

  • As most full-padded practices do, Wednesday's work began with the "W" (or "Oklahoma") drill.

    The physical drill takes place in three sets of narrow lines, where a runner tries to get through three levels of defense -- linemen, linebackers and defensive backs. At each level, there is one blocker tasked with preventing his man from getting to the ball-carrier.

    It's typically a physical drill that features some big plays from both sides. But with limited running back depth, there are occasionally some interesting choices for players to tote the pigskin.

    Indeed, reserve quarterback Josh DePasquale has been one of the runners every time the team has done the physical drill -- and, perhaps because of some solid blocking in front of him, he has come away relatively unscathed more than almost any other Mountaineer.

    The same hasn't held true for holder Jeremy Kash, who has repeatedly been subjected to some big hits from linebackers and defensive backs in the drill.

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