Fall Practice Notebook: Day 2

As the late afternoon heat refused to relent on the second day of fall training camp for the 2010 Mountaineer football squad, a few trends began to emerge out of the ceaseless sunshine.

While scribes are quick to refer to the slower pace and the increased emphasis on "teaching" that occurs in the opening days of practice, that seems to be more true early in this fall camp than it has in any other recent season.

The first five-minute period of "team" (meaning all players on offense or defense were working as a unit, not in position-by-position drills) activity Sunday for the white-clad offense was devoted to showing several of the mainstay pre-snap alignments West Virginia uses and the calls associated with each.

Running backs coach Chris Beatty, clad as per usual in a gray, long-sleeved sweatshirt and full-length pants despite the sweltering heat, led the way, barking out instructions to players about where each position is to line up with each call.

In a tactic often employed by school teachers, the offense then used the subsequent five-minute period to show some of the newcomers what they had just learned.

Several veterans were put through a normal drill in which the formations are called out in a rapid-fire manner, and players are to line up as quickly as possible, simulate a "snap" and advance five yards forward before repeating the process.

Of course, the learning curve may be steepest for the young men ambitious enough to try to play quarterback. WVU offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen spent considerable time working with true freshman Barry Brunetti in one of the team's most fundamental drills for both quarterbacks and receivers.

The drill is simple. Receivers are divided into three groups, and each group works with one quarterback. As the QB feigns receiving a snap, the receiver breaks from a stance and sprints about five yards up the field before turning and "posting up" against a large, blue dummy being held by a student manager.

As the receiver makes that move, the pass is fired. After the catch, the receiver turns upfield and is promptly met by a large pad, being swung by an assistant coach to mimic a hit and test the receiver's ability to keep control of the ball.

Mullen did not let even the slightest of imperfections slip by.

When Brunetti was releasing the ball just before his receivers would make their post-up move, the quarterbacks coach called him to task and instructed his pupil to be patient.

When the freshman's footwork in the brief drop to set up the pass wasn't crisp enough, Mullen would quietly pull him aside and mimic what Brunetti had just done before showing him the proper motion.

When Brunetti's release point was not high enough, Mullen would run in front of the signal-caller in the midst of his drop and raise his arms into the air to make Brunetti throw at a proper angle.

All of that is not to say that Brunetti is struggling, or that Mullen is "picking on" him, or that fellow freshman QB Jeremy Johnson is being ignored.

Indeed, while media only have gotten to watch these signal-callers throw without a defense working against them, it is clear that each of WVU's top three quarterbacks has a real feel for the position and a certain raw ability that belies their young ages.

But even in their first days as college football players, Brunetti and Johnson are not simply getting a pass from Mullen. It's easy to see why he has been a successful quarterbacks coach, as he seems to shine in his role as a teacher in spots such as these.

In situations like these, it is readily apparent that the early days of camp are as much about teaching the game of football to players as they are about "practicing" the game.

BRIEFLY:

  • As part of yesterday's notebook, Kevin Kinder reported that Tavon Austin, Eddie Davis, Brandon Hogan, Jock Sanders and J.D. Woods were the Mountaineers working on fielding kicks.

    You can now officially add Noel Devine to that mix, as the running back spent one of the early periods back deep to snare footballs, which were shot from a machine at a certain speed and angle to imitate a kickoff.

  • While there is no indication his starting job is in any jeopardy, Tyler Bitancurt was a bit shaky during an early kicking period, missing a 36-yarder from the left hash and missing a 47-yarder from between the hashes (the latter kick bounced no-good off the right upright).

    The sophomore did convert a point-after kick, as well as field goals of 25, 31 and 38 yards.

    Alabama transfer Corey Smith was perfect on his three attempts -- an extra point, a 25-yard field goal and a 35-yard field goal.

  • One of the more intriguing battles this fall will be for the starting punting job, where the aforementioned Smith will go against veteran back-up Greg Pugnetti for the right to take over the job of the departed Scott Kozlowski.

    Both contenders showed some real ability at times Sunday, with each booming a few kicks that sent return man Brandon Hogan backpedaling in a hurry to field the ball.

    But both also struggled to consistently deliver a good foot to the ball. Pugnetti had a pair of shanks while attempting the "rugby-style" roll punt used by WVU in recent seasons, with one going out of bounds to his right after a short flight and the other doing the same towards the opposite sideline.

    Smith's troubles stemmed from an occasional inability to get the appropriate amount of loft on the kick, as he delivered a few powerful line drives that could cause problems for the punt coverage unit in a "live" situation.


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