Mountaineers Ready For Contact In Ninth Practice
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia’s foundation and fundamentals have been a focus this spring.
Add in installation and teaching as well. Now it’s time for the nitty gritty of football, and for players to begin truly showcasing themselves with what else than the first full contact practice of the spring held on Saturday. That it comes in the ninth set of drills – already more than halfway through the allotted 15 – isn’t a surprise considering the emphasis the team has placed on technique and the basics thus far.
“We’ve had a lot of installation days, a lot of teaching,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We’ve had really good work, and I’m very happy with that, but today is the first day that we’ll tackle. So, we’ll find out a lot about our guys here today.”
Aspects like toughness, physicality and tenacity all come to the forefront. But so does the intelligence quotient of a player. Who has retained what, and who can read, react and execute at an high level when the game flows at full speed? Physical play is great, but it’s useless unless it’s honed and operated within the system. It’s like what they say about shooting: Fast is fine; accuracy is final.
To that end, the Mountaineers will start to look at what players can elevate themselves above the fray, and who can contribute in certain situations, i.e. a pass rusher, a third down linebacker, the extra defensive back. Who excels in short yardage? Plays the game well? Can block and get to the second level off the line, makes catches in traffic and more.
“All of our installation stuff is over, so for the remainder of spring and the remaining six practices, it will be more situational-type stuff,” Holgorsen said. “There will be three scrimmages, and a couple of the other days will be just teaching days off the scrimmages. Then we’ll have a couple of other practices that will be purely situational stuff. We’ll focus on critical downs today, we’ll do some two-minute stuff. It’s been good; I’ve liked the process of where we’re at. I think we have an idea of what we have, but we have to put them in live situations to see how they respond and react, but we have to teach these situations as well.”
Among those situations that wee included in the full 11-on-11 first team work done by the Mountaineers on Saturday was a quick on-off special teams drill. WVU’s first, second and third team offenses spotted the ball at the 30-yard line going in, and then took late game or half situational snap in which they tried a quick pass to gain extra yardage or simply slid the quarterback to a spot and knelt the ball.
The first or second team field goal unit then rushed on and tried a last-second attempt without a timeout. The organization was solid, and the execution decent, though some of the tries from 35 to 50 yards were off the mark. Still, the exercise served to show who performed in that situation, and it gave the coaches information to better teach moving forward.
Holgorsen said he was also looking forward to the initial tackling day for similar reasons. With the focus on angles and getting the ball carriers to the ground with greater effectiveness – an approach harped upon by coordinator Tony Gibson – the contact and upcoming scrimmages will be opportunities to see which players can indeed make the plays, and which need more practice in that area.
“We’ve really attacked the basics of tackling,” Holgorsen said. “There’s a lot of things that can be taught from tracking the ball carriers, to fitting the ball carriers. Now we’re going to see if we can get them on the ground. I’m really anxious; the next time I talk to you all I’ll have a little bit better of an idea of how these guys respond with the first real football that we’ve played this spring.”
Holgorsen was also asked about the energy and status of Alabama transfer T.J. Simmons. Called an “energy guy” by position coach Tyron Carrier, the rather vocal Simmons was tagged as a player who could contribute immediately last spring when he was ineligible because of NCAA transfer rules. Now, with a year of experience at West Virginia, how does Holgorsen see his development?
“Can you hear him? He’s the one running around on that other side,” Holgorsen said. “Yeah, he does bring a lot of energy. He’s made some plays, too. He’s a sophomore; the kid has three years of eligibility. He looks like a pro, and he acts like one, too. I hope he plays like that.”
Fellow transfer Jovani Haskins received much of the same praise last spring. With WVU’s increased focus on the tight end position, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound former Miami signee will loom large in just how much the Mountaineers can utilize the slot. For a pure tight end, Haskins has the hands and route running aspect. But to fit with what coordinator Jake Spavital wants to do in being able to slide him between tight end and a fullback-type look, Haskins has to better his blocking.
“He’s up and down, he’s still learning,” Holgorsen said. “That’s an interesting spot that we haven’t had since probably Tyler Urban (in 2011). That position, the receiving aspect of it, comes natural to him. He’s working hard at the blocking aspect of things – being in the box, being a fullback, being a tight end. He has a good frame and the receiving stuff is easy to him. But to be a complete player, he has to get better at the blocking aspect of it.”