Fall Practice Notebook: Day 4

No, the heat and humidity weren't combining to cause a case of déjà vu on Tuesday afternoon. Things just were much the same as they had been the day before for the WVU football team. Like Monday, the players wore "shells" and trudged up to the team's auxiliary grass field for practice.

And the similarities didn't end there. The early practice workload was much the same as it had been the day before, with position-by-position drills and little live action that media could watch in the hour they were permitted on the field.

But there was one key difference that likely displeased head coach Bill Stewart.

Less than 24 hours after knocking on the wooden podium at his press conference, hoping not to jinx his team after proclaiming that his players were all healthy, Stewart watched linebacker J.T. Thomas become the first Mountaineer to wear one of the team's green jerseys, given to those limited in practice due to injury.

Thomas, a senior, was being held out "as a precaution" according to Stewart, after again dealing with pain in his neck. The same neck problem, classified as a sprain during spring practice, held Thomas out of the Gold-Blue Game at the end of April.

Beyond that, the rest of the West Virginia roster was still in action Tuesday.

Players went through similar position-specific warm-ups early in practice to the ones that occur most every day.

Running backs and slot receivers worked on pad level and ball security drills. Quarterbacks and wide receivers did some work on post patterns, both of the skinny and deep variety. Defensive linemen worked on their first steps after a snap and having the proper placement and power behind their initial contact with opponents.

The Mountaineers had not gone into any "live" drills (outside of special teams work) before media were ushered away from the practice field at 3:30 p.m.


  • In special teams drills, safety Eain Smith came up with a block on a field goal attempt from Tyler Bitancurt, drawing a sizable celebration from the block unit and the "defensive" special teamers.

    Beyond that, it was difficult to gauge the effectiveness of Bitancurt and fellow kicker Corey Smith, as the drills were conducted near the end zone on the opposite side of the field from the only pair of goalposts that are in place at the grass practice field.

    In general, though, Smith has looked excellent in field goal kicking periods thus far this fall, while Bitancurt has struggled a bit -- perhaps as a result of the mild hip injury he has been dealing with.

    Punt work continued to confound, as both Smith and Gregg Pugnetti had some impressive kicks and some that were horribly shanked.

    Smith may be forging a slight lead in that competition, but it is far too early to tell who may ultimately win the starting job by the time the season begins Sept. 4 against Coastal Carolina.

  • Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jeff Mullen does not leave a single second to waste when it comes to teaching his signal-callers.

    During the team's 10-minute stretching period, all offensive players were asked to hold a football in the proper position (two hands on the ball for quarterbacks, tucked away high and tight under one arm for others).

    As quarterbacks went through various stretches, Mullen would occasionally make a quick move to slap at the ball to test his players' grip. When the offensive coordinator saw presumptive starting QB Geno Smith holding on a bit too tight, he took advantage of the opportunity to give a quick lesson.

    "You never want to over-grip with your throwing hand," Mullen instructed the sophomore. "You do that, and you'll start throwing knuckleballs."

  • If there is one thing several of the running backs and slot receivers need to work on at this point, it is running with the proper pad level.

    Several players struggled to get their heads and bodies low enough to go under a red metal bar that is placed just before a device players run through that uses a series of hard, tightly spring-loaded arms to test their ability to surge through contact and hold onto the football.

    Freshman Trey Johnson and converted quarterback Coley White seemed to struggle the most, with each nearly knocking the red bar completely over on multiple occasions throughout the course of the drill.

    Both drew the ire of position coach Chris Beatty, who reminded that duo (and others, as nearly every running back or slot receiver was at least hitting the bar with the tops of their helmets) about the importance of getting low enough and being able to stay there while running.

    The rest of the players at those positions would do well to emulate Noel Devine and Jock Sanders (who, admittedly have the advantage of being a bit shorter than many of their teammates). Those two stars never made even the slightest bit of contact with the bar throughout the drill -- and, impressively, they seemed to power through the "arms" better than most of their bigger-bodied counterparts.

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