Stew's Views: Fall Camp Day Five

As per usual, the first day of practice in full pads was characterized by plenty of physical play. That pleased WVU head coach Bill Stewart, who said Wednesday evening that the first five days of drills have been especially tough by design.

"We had some good hitting," said the third-year head coach. "The intensity was good. I expected it to be good. And our seniors, juniors, and even underclassmen did not let us down."

The day began with the "victory" (or "Oklahoma") drill -- a series of three stations with narrow rows of cones making for running lanes for ball-carriers who must rely on the blocking of three teammates (one lineman, one fullback or tight end and one receiver) to get to the other end unscathed.

On the other side, a defensive lineman, a linebacker and a member of the secondary all try to beat their blockers and score a clean, hard hit on the runner.

"It was intense and I was pleased with day one of how that went," said Stewart of the drill. "There was some good, aggressive hitting."

After individual, position-by-position work, an inside rushing drill and one-on-one battles between receivers and defensive backs, the Mountaineers went into the "team" portion of practice.

On Wednesday, that meant a "live" pass skeleton drill -- a 7-on-7 battle between the offensive skill position players and the defense (without the line) that included full-scale drives down the field (first down markers in use, etc.).

"I thought it was really good," Stewart said. "I wanted to put us in a game simulation, offense and defense, without going back to the same hash and the same plays. So we moved the chains and went down the field and it was productive."

In that portion of practice, safety Eain Smith snagged an interception and fellow secondary member Darwin Cook forced a fumble.

But those positive plays for the WVU defense are miscues for the team's offense. While Stewart didn't say who threw the pass that Smith picked off, he did say the fumble was a valuable learning experience for quarterback-turned-receiver Coley White.

"Coley had a good day today, but he got a ball stripped," Stewart said. "He hasn't been in the slot [until this fall]. Made a nice catch in traffic, but that's the ball Darwin Cook stripped. So you give praise to Darwin, but then you say, ‘Hey, Coley, high and tight.' He'll learn all that."

Even while he still feels out the finer points of playing at receiver, White has proven valuable in helping show younger players some key pointers, allowing them to avoid some of the mistakes that typically come with inexperience.

"I happen to see the little things," Stewart said. "[White] was getting the youngsters on the line [of scrimmage], because you have to have seven. You can have 10 if you want, but you have to have seven. And he's moving guys up, so he knows what's going on. That's nice to have out there with some freshman receivers."

Stewart said J.D. Woods caught a touchdown pass on the first drive of the skeleton drill, culminating a series of about 10 plays. The first, second and even third-team offense and defense got a crack at playing and putting their skills on display for the Mountaineer coaches.

While the news on the field was good in the eyes of the head coach, the news away from it might have been even better.

Linebacker J.T. Thomas, who wore a green jersey and was held out of practice each of the last two days as he dealt with pain in his neck similar to that which caused the senior problems during spring practice, was cleared for action by the WVU medical staff.

"He had an MRI this morning and he is absolutely, 100 percent cleared to go," Stewart said. "There is some joint irritation, and that's a pain thing. He has some pain. But there is absolutely no disc, no small channel, no vertebrae [problem]. Everything is good. It's a 100 percent clear picture of an MRI."

But that is not the only health concern for West Virginia. The oppressive heat and high humidity that have dominated practice in the last four days has caused the staff to again encourage players to drink fluids as often as possible after one player felt some of the effects of neglecting to do so.

"Keith Tandy lost 12 pounds the other day and had the headaches the next day, so we're telling them to drink, drink, drink, drink, drink," Stewart said. "He couldn't practice because of that weight loss.

"Our medical staff is really on top of it. It's pounding the fluids in you. We have meetings tonight and we'll have Gatorade, water and everything downstairs. So just drink, replenish. You can't drink enough water."

But that does not mean that the intensity of practice will be dialed back at all to account for the warmer weather.

"We're not backing up an inch," Stewart said. "As a matter of fact, I made practices tougher these first five days."

Things only figure to get even more difficult for players, as Thursday marks the first day of two-a-day practices for the Mountaineers.


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