Stew's Views: Fall Camp Day Three

The physicality of preseason training camp was ratcheted up a notch Monday, as the WVU football squad donned "shells" (shoulder pads and helmets) for the third day of fall practice.

After spending some time around the Mountaineers, one becomes accustomed to the rhythm that is repeated in some form every fall.

First, the practices are light and focused on the mental side of the game while players are just in helmets, jerseys and shorts for the opening days.

Then, the shoulder pads come on and things get a bit more intense as the first hitting of the fall occurs. It culminates when the players add football pants (complete with thigh boards and other padding) and go full-contact shortly thereafter.

Consider step two of that evolution in full swing, as things started to get physical Monday afternoon.

"We banged around a little bit," said WVU head coach Bill Stewart. "It's tough to practice sometimes with no ... hip pads, thigh pads, that [sort of] thing. But you have to learn how to practice, and we did a nice job with that."

While Stewart said some contact was permissible on the third day of fall camp, he also said players were instructed not to take each other to the ground. For the most part, they managed to do so.

That may have been tough to avoid, since parts of Monday's practice were quite competitive.

West Virginia worked on its inside (between the tackles) rushing drills at one point, and other periods of play saw offensive and defensive linemen go at one another in small groups. Stewart said practice culminated with a bit of open scrimmaging, with the ball placed on the offense's 35-yard line and tasking the squad with moving down field and picking up first downs.

"They were excited. We were excited," Stewart said. "The coaches were back and forth. It was a good day.

"There were mistakes, but there's going to be mistakes. It's day three. But it was good. Our guys practiced hard. There were some tremendous hits. But we did not take anyone to the ground, or didn't try to. We're learning how to practice so we can stay healthy."

Because the intense Morgantown heat (just shy of 90 degrees during practice, and under a direct sun that made it feel even hotter) made practice that much more grueling, the desire to help keep players healthy was partially behind the head coach's decision to have practice on the team's natural grass practice field, which is adjacent to the Caperton Indoor Practice Facility.

The FieldTurf on the surface of Mountaineer Field is set on a base of black rubber pellets that hold in heat. Add in the aluminum bleachers that line Milan Puskar Stadium, and Stewart said that on a 93 degree day, it is not uncommon for the temperatures to reach 105 degrees at field level.

By moving practice to the grass field, Stewart allowed his players to avoid that heat. And he also gave the Mountaineers a chance to preview a surface they will play on three times this season (at LSU, at Connecticut and at Pittsburgh).

The third-year coach didn't rule out the possibility of going to the grass again in the next couple of days, as temperatures are only supposed to climb further.

"Probably so," Stewart said. "I like throwing guys curveballs. You know that time we couldn't play at noon -- we couldn't get up, we were a night team, I said, ‘Okay, we'll start practicing at six [in the morning]. You've got to be ever ready on the march. It's a military thing."

RIFLE REPORTS:

  • Stewart characterized Monday's session as another "situational" practice. Three periods were devoted to work on third downs -- one period each for short yardage, intermediate yardage and long yardage situations.

    Also on the agenda was one-on-one practice between defensive backs and receivers on deep passes. Stewart praised cornerbacks Brodrick Jenkins, Keith Tandy and Brandon Hogan for their performances during that drill.

    But he also said one short (5-foot-9, officially) receiver, who was moved from the slot to the outside this spring, showed his incredible athletic ability.

    "Offensively, I'm going to tell you what: Tavon Austin catches the ball and he jumps as high as anyone in the program," Stewart said. "He's just got ‘it.'"

  • While the physicality in practice is something Stewart wanted to see, he also said a fine line must be maintained in "live" drills between allowing players to practice blocking and pass rushing and being too risky in attacking quarterback Geno Smith.

    Smith was limited for much of the spring after breaking the fifth metatarsal in his left foot. While he is healthy now, the Mountaineer coaching staff clearly wants to make sure defenders stay clear of his gold jersey (showing he is not to be hit), lest he be injured again before the season even starts.

    "The defensive pocket collapsed one time up there, and we went, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa.' And our guys knew it. They backed off," Stewart said.

    "Not one of those youngsters want to fall on him, but they're trying to get better as well. You have to pass rush and you have to pass block. It's football. There's going to be bumps and bangs and you hope nobody falls on it. We're trying to keep people away as best we can, but you have to practice."

  • After saying placekicker Tyler Bitancurt was not at 100 percent after Sunday's practice, Stewart clarified that the sophomore is not facing any major issues, terming the problem "just a little hip thing."

    "He's okay," the head coach said.

    For now, so is the rest of the team. Three days into the fall, all of West Virginia's players are in their appropriate colors -- blue jerseys for the defense, white ones for the offense and kicking/punting units, and gold shirts for the quarterbacks.

    "I told the team, I don't like green jerseys," Stewart said, referring to the shirts donned by those who are limited in practice due to injury. The line drew laughs from several media members, apparently connecting the dots when it comes to the green tops worn by Marshall.

    "I'm not talking about the opponents," he quickly clarified. "Don't take that and run with it. But if you do, that's okay too. And I don't like red jerseys [worn by those who can't practice at all due to injury]. And they said, ‘Stewart must not like Christmas.' Well, I just don't like red and green on the football field, because that's our injured squad."

    "Right now," he continued, before pausing to knock on the wood of the podium he stood behind, "we're all in blue or white, and the quarterbacks are in gold."


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