A Quick Smattering Of Musings & Observations From WVU’s Assistant Coaches
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – As West Virginia enters its second week of fall camp, Jake Spavital is heavy on fine-tuning and cleaning up mistakes, wile Tony Gibson wants his players to be master’s of one trade before attempting anything else.
That and more came out of Monday’s interview sessions, when the coaches dropped knowledge and tidbits about the who, what and where of West Virginia football. Here’s a handful of the insights, starting with the coordinators.
The Mountaineer offense is nearing completion from a pure installation standpoint. WVU began red zone work, both coming out and going in, on Sunday, and the goal now is to see which players fit where, and who can help the team in certain situations. The primary concern of now is the moving parts, shuffling along the line, at receiver, etc. It makes this next five days huge in terms of truly settling on a post-camp depth chart.
“We still have a long way to go,” Spavital said. “We’re moving guys out of many different positions and trying to figure out who are going to be our top offensive linemen going in. The hard part with that is if you go, ‘Hey, these are our best five offensive linemen – who is our sixth-best one so if this guy goes down and we have to bump this guy over to tackle and start moving guys around?’ At times you feel like you’re starting from scratch again when you go out there with your group, but that’s pretty much part of it with how we’re repping things right now.
“Overall, I like where we’re going; we just have to focus in on the little things, pay a little bit better attention to detail and make sure we keep building that continuity and getting on the same page.”
Spavital also noted that, like head coach Dana Holgorsen, he was comfortable with four receivers. That number was hurt by the lack of Jovon Durante – the vertical threat has yet to report to camp, and there’s no definite timetable on his return – which left WVU with Ka’Raun White, David Sills, Gary Jennings and Marcus Simms.
“We have to find some backups because we play at such a high tempo at times that you’re going to end up playing a lot of different receivers,” Spavital said. “In my previous schools that I was at, we were averaging around 10 to 15 kids a game that were having to catch. So, you have to play a lot of receivers.”
Spavital did say his last two stops at Texas A&M and Cal offered two very different experiences. At A&M, there were countless people on staff to help with anything from video break downs to athletic training. Cal “is more like here,” he said. With one notable difference: The location close to Silicon Valley made the program a hotbed for analytics and the newest mathematical formulas floated to provide insight into schemes, tendencies and more.
“It was great because you had all the information,” he said. “Now, I might only read 50 of the 400 pages, but it was there.”
Offensive line coach Joe Wickline said the goal was to find at least eight lineman, meaning a starting five with a reserve at center, guard and tackle. WVU will flip players from right to left, but not inside to outside due to the vast differences in play. In regards to when he needed to settle on a stop five to eight, Wickline said he was “all for them to stop at any time. I’m ready for them, so they dictate that.”
Meaning its on the players to prove it.
“We still have some work left,” Wickline said. “It’s not like we’re doing wholesale deals here. We’re looking at a few different combinations. We’ll figure it out, it’s not that big of a deal.”
Wickline did say that Ray Raulerson returned to practice after missing a few days due to a personal matter. Raulerson will be a reserve, possibly at center. Left guard Kyle Bosch is also practicing there as an emergency reserve.
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said the initial live days of practice only consisted of approximately 25 snaps per day. hat’s not nearly enough to get a feel for what players can truly do, which makes the increased snap loads planned for late this week a major key for the rebuilding unit.
“We’re just kind of easing them into it,” Gibson said. “Saturday or this Friday, I guess, coming will be a big evaluation day as we turn them loose and just let them play football. … We’re at the point right now where we have to see unbalanced stuff, we have to see empty, we have to see so many different things that we install. Then, the walk-throughs are huge for that because that’s when we get to prepare our guys for what they’re going to see during the season.”
Gibson did pull a bit of a psychological ploy on his safeties, which are considered the strongest part of the defense with the return of Dravon Askew-Henry along with Kyzir White and Toyous Avery. Gibson said he expected a higher level of play, and some better leadership, before circling back around to state the unit was going to be pretty good. It’s a page from Mental Prep and Motivation 101, and Gibson played the card at just the right time in camp with the team nearing the midpoint but just getting into the more decisive aspects.
Gibson mentioned redshirt freshman Jake Long and sophomore Hakeem Bailey as excelling at corner. That’s not groundbreaking; Long has been mentioned as a potentially elite player since he joined the program this time last year, and Bailey is a well-built 6-0, 193 pounds. With Syracuse transfer Corey Winfield soon to be sidelined for two-plus weeks of camp with a finger which needs surgery, Elijah Battle and Mike Daniels need to be pushed at corner.
“I expect (Bailey) to be able to hop in and play right away against Virginia Tech,” Gibson said. “He’s done well so far since he’s been here. Between Mike and Elijah, those three seem to have a really good relationship. They kind of share reps and compete against each other, but they also have off-the-field personal relationships. They kind of understand what the process is.”
WVU’s defense front, meanwhile, remains unsettled, especially at nose. With Reese Donahue and Adam Shuler the likely starting ends, the nose is swimming in potential players, with none yet having totally grasped the spot. Jaleel Fields and Jalen Harvey are obvious candidates, but freshman Lamonte McDougle (5-10, 295 lbs.) has closed the gap and could press for time – an extremely rare occurrence for a true freshman on the interior of the line.
“We knew how strong he was when we recruited him,” Gibson said. “It helps (pad level and leverage) that he’s 5-foot-9.”
Position coach Bruce Tall said he was increasingly focused on the spot, which is the literal centerpiece of the entire 3-3-5 set. “I have to be,” Tall said. “We don’t really have anybody. Inexperience is part of the collegiate level. We have to work at that and make sure it is secure. That is where it all starts in the middle.”
And finally, on a positive note, the biggest concern of now for running backs coach Tony Dews is how to split carries. Dews said there was a balance between riding the hot hand and keeping players fresh, but it’s a problem he welcomes.
“Right now we’re focusing on making sure everyone’s doing the little things right, making sure we’re doing the very best job we can to get better each day at practice,” Dews said. “Then as we get into game week we’ll start to talk about that as staff and figure out which direction we’ll go with that.”