Camp To Prep: WVU Squares Up Focus on Hokies
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – The transition from camp work to first game preparation isn’t, as we have seen, a clearly defined one. Although early comments noted that West Virginia’s football team was concentrating on self-improvement, not scouting, in the early days of August, later revelations have noted that some sneak peaks, ranging from video study to early looks at potential Virginia Tech schemes had made their way into the Mountaineers’ preparations. Now, though, with game week fully underway, the shift has been made.
Even so, the coaches are playing things a bit coy. For example, asked if backup positions have been settled along the defensive front, coach Bruce Tall joked, “Well, we don’t even have a first team yet.”
He then elaborated, but didn’t provide the hints that today’s depth chart did, which lists Xavier Pegues and Jaleel Fields as the first two at nose, with Reese Donahue and Adam Shuler heading Jon Lewis and Ezekiel Rose at ends. There are likely more players that will get snaps, however.
“That whole group has done a nice job,” Tall said. “At the end position, we have as many as seven guys that we feel like we can play in the game without any hesitations as far as getting them ready. We have about seven at end and about four nose guards. Obviously, we won’t play that many. Typically, we like to play between four and five ends and two to three noses would be the goal. Especially as we get later on in the season. I feel comfortable about all of them. The young kids are doing a nice job. Both (freshman defensive lineman) (Lamonte) McDougle and (freshman defensive lineman) Darius Stills have continued to progress. (Redshirt senior defensive lineman) Johnny Lewis being a fifth-year senior, he is off the charts in everything he does. He is such a quality young man and his work ethic shows how you can be rewarded if you work hard. (Sophomore defensive lineman) Reese Donahue is leaps and bounds from the spring until now with what he is doing, we are really excited about that. (Redshirt sophomore defensive lineman) (Adam) Shuler (II) continues to improve his game. His athleticism, his focus is even more geared in now that he knows where he stands. (Junior defensive lineman) Ezekiel Rose, I am excited about having him in the program. He has so much energy and he continues to get better and better. We are on a good track right now.”
No matter how many of those players get time against Tech, there are still more chances to play down the line. It’s likely that some of the youngsters, if they don’t get action in the opener, could see snaps against East Carolina and Delaware State.
“It’s so early in the season you never rule out a young player. I tell them to come ready to play and if we get into the season and you aren’t playing then we will deal with it at that time,” Tall explained. “I always tell them to come mentally ready and we will continue to work to get you physically ready. It is a learning curve for them, but these guys are folks that have done a nice job.”
One youngster who can now be classified as a veteran is Reese Donahue. The true sophomore, who against expectations avoided a redshirt and played in all 12 games a year ago, is primed to take the next step from backup to counted-upon starter. In that role, he wants to be a difference-maker — something that is a key point of discussion for Tall.
“Coach talks about it a lot. He actually said something about that the other day. He wants it to be “Wow, who was THAT guy?” He wants us to take over the game. All season it’s been a focal point that we don’t have any starters returning, and that we graduated three seniors last year. We want to make it a point of emphasis this year that we are not the weak link in the defense. We want to be just as strong as everybody else.
“We talk abut it. You win or lose with the lines up front, and defense is supposed to win championships. It’s a pretty big level for us to compete at.”
Donahue had 12 tackles in his backup action last year, with nine of those coming in three conference games against Texas, Texas Tech and Iowa State. With a birthday that falls on West Virginia Day, and his homegrown status, the Virginia Tech game is a big one for him.
“Now that camps are over, they are trying to save our legs and trying to tune us in to game week and things like that. The hardest part last week was staying mentally sharp. Now that we are starting to move in to look at our opponents, we are starting to really enjoy it.”