Spring Practice Underway For WVU Football Program
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The parking lot in front of the Puskar Center was packed Tuesday morning.
The construction crews and their equipment involved in the facility’s renovation took up a healthy portion of the rutted, asphalt surface, but also the entirety of the Mountaineer football team – players and staff alike – needed parking spots, as Tuesday morning was the first of West Virginia’s 15 allotted spring practices.
The fact that all the football-related activity took place in the morning was unusual. WVU is conducting most of its practice work this spring in the morning. In the past, it’s normally been in the afternoon.
“We’re doing it for a couple of reasons,” explained West Virginia head coach Neal Brown of the switch to the morning practices. “First, we’re taking more classes on campus (rather than online), and we wanted to give our guys options of being able to have morning or afternoon classes throughout the year. Several of our guys, especially as they get to the upper years in their major, their classes are only offered at a certain time. We’re going to continue to practice in the afternoons in the fall, but now in the springtime, they have some other options. We have a couple kids who are in (physicians assistant) school, and some of their classes are only offered in the afternoon. We also have some in engineering, and there may be one particular class they need and it’s in the afternoon. So this gives those guys an opportunity in the spring to take afternoon classes, and in the fall they can take morning classes.
“I think the guys like it,” Brown added. “I’m going to poll them at the end of the semester, but they come over here, get their workout day, their meeting day or their practice day done in the morning, and now the rest of the day they just have meals and academics.”
As for Tuesday’s practice itself, West Virginia’s second-year head coach was for the most part pleased with day No. 1.
“It was a good start,” said Brown after the morning’s non-contact practice session. “We had good energy, which is to be expected. It’s hard to practice football without pads, especially run game-wise – o-line, d-line. It was a much cleaner start today than either of the starts we had last year (in the spring or fall), which is to be expected. Today was probably better than we were even in fall camp.
“Special teams, a lot of technique work, which is probably where we’ll be for the next few days. We talk about technique and effort, and those are the things that make plays on special teams. We’re in the technique session right now. All the techniques we teach on special teams also correlate into what we teach on offense and defense.
“Offensively, the bright spot was we had several explosive plays down field. It was mostly a passing day today since we weren’t wearing any (pads). We did have too many run-throughs caused by the line movements by our d-line.
“Defensively I thought the d-line was active,” Brown continued. “We have some talented guys there. They moved and made some plays and got their hands on the ball more than we did last year. That’s a point of emphasis for us – getting our hands up and affecting some passes. The negatives were we gave up some big pass plays. We do have some talented wideouts, but the receivers got behind the DBs too many times today.”
The Mountaineers will hold two more practices this week before the University begins its spring break on March 14. After taking the week off, Brown’s club will pick back up with its spring practices on March 24 and will continue regular workouts from that point until the Gold-Blue Spring Game on April 18.
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• Redshirt freshman Jared Bartlett, who was used at bandit linebacker in four games last season, is going to get practice reps at the mike linebacker this spring, though Brown explained that the two positions are similar, so it’s not a major switch.
• As WVU looks to replace last year’s starting offensive tackles, Colton McKivitz and Kelby Wickline, it will work this spring with junior John Hughes and redshirt freshman Parker Moorer at right tackle and sophomore Junior Uzebu and Brandon Yates at left tackle.
• With Chase Behrndt limited this spring as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery, WVU’s center position currently features Briason Mays and Noah Drummond. James Gmiter, who has worked mainly at guard, also is doing some snapping.
• Besides Behrndt, a number of other Mountaineers who are recovering from injuries also will be limited this spring. Safety Osman Kamara, defensive end Taijh Alston, defensive tackle Jordan Jefferson, bandit linebacker VanDarius Cowan and will linebacker Josh Chandler will be able to participate in some parts of spring practice but none will likely be involved in contact drills. Their head coach said all of them should be pretty much 100 percent by the time West Virginia opens the 2020 season against Florida State on Sept. 5 in Atlanta.