WVU Football Preseason Thoughts, Notes and Observations
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As WVU’s preseason football practices moves into their second week, the notebook begins filling up with various items of interest. Herewith then, a look at the current scene across the Mountaineer football complex.
Tight Ends and Fullbacks
What do you call them? Even position coach Dan Gerberry isn’t sure. He’s listed as the tight ends\fullbacks coach on WVU’s website and in the media guide, but that doesn’t really cover all of the duties they will perform. Gerberry thinks “H-Back” might cover it, but that would need the approval from on high.
“I know a lot of schools have a lot of different nicknames for it, but we have not labelled it as anything,” Gerberry said with good humor. “If that time comes, Coach Holgorsen will let me know.”
That’s a diplomatic answer from a coach at the beginning of his career.
Gerberry also notes that 28-year-old freshman Jesse Beal provides a different feel in the meeting room, having played minor league baseball for a decade before deciding to try his hand at football.
“He brings a unique perspective to the room. I can only talk so much about life experiences. It resonates coming from him as a professional athlete. He’s a grown man, and he has been a great addition to our room. I think he can be a leader in those life aspects that really matter. He’s a resource that these guys can use. He brings an element to tour room, a maturity, that we have not had.”
Beal isn’t in a rush, despite his late start in the sport.
“I want to use this year to feel everything out and try to gain some momentum,” he told Maryland Blue Crabs play-by-play broadcaster Brandon Bulanda several months ago. “I still have all four years of eligibility left so I have plenty of time to figure out my future in football. Right now, I’m just trying to make a good impression.”
The hot and sometimes humid weather has met the approval of many coaches on the staff. Assistant Mark Scott just nods with a grin on his face when asked how the weather is helping in preparation. Noting the cramping that affected the Mountaineers in the Virginia Tech opener last year, he thinks that this year’s heat in the preseason will help WVU in early games, especially in the southern venues of Charlotte and Raleigh.
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson is also doing his part in this regard.
“That’s why we keep in cold in here,” he said of the team room, which was hovering at 66.7 degrees on a recent day. “We want them to feel it and get used to it when they go out into the heat.”
Gibson notes that the movement of linebackers between the three positions is designed to figure out who can play where, and that it will lessen as he preseason winds down.
“Moving between the will and the sam is not as big of a deal in our defense,” he said of the two outside spots. “The mike is different, but we have guys that can play all three. With the younger guys, we want to see where they are best suited, but we’ll start cutting that down [as the season approaches] and get the ones that we think can play concentrated on one spot. I don’t want to overload them or get them confused.”
Following that guide, those in competition for backup spots will continue to get work at two or all three of those positions for the next week or so. Shea Campbell is likely to wind up positioned at same behind juco Charles Benton, while freshman Josh Chandler works the will behind David Long, who is likely to come off the field about as often as Cal Ripken. Zach Sandwisch and Adam Hensley are vying for the mike backup spot.
Offensive Line Testing
There’s a pretty clear idea of the first five up front, with Yodny Cajuste, Josh Sills, Jacob Buccigrossi, Isaiah Hardy and Colton McKivitz from left to right. After that, though there is a lot of experimentation, as assistant coach Joe Wickline is big on mixing and matching. Kelby Wickline looks set as the first backup at either tackle spot, and Matt Jones is an experienced sub with starting experience at center. Juco transfer Joe Brown got some snaps there as well recently, but it was made clear that he’s not a ready-for-action player at that spot.
Joe and brother Michael are the wildcards at this point. Are they advancing quickly enough to be in the picture at guard? Each has two years of eligibility remaining, and both are getting plenty of reps to see if they can help. There isn’t a deadline on that process — if they aren’t deemed ready for the opener, they could still be in he competition to help as the season progresses.
The Josh Norwood Question
Where does the talented transfer land, corner or safety? That’s a tough call, and it brings several factors into play, including team need and his skills. Say WVU winds up needing the cornerback position stabilized. That would push him to the outside of the defense, but what if his hard hitting and aggressive play makes him better suited at safety? It’s a good “problem” to have, but a tough call to make.
Norwood has been seeing more time at corner the past couple of days, but there’s not a final decision to make yet. One safe bet — he’ll be a big factor on WVU’s passing defense alignments when an extra DB comes onto the field. His versatility would allow him to line up at multiple positions, whether covering a third or fourth wideout or forcing the run should a cross-up come from the offense.
Drop The 3-3-5?
Gibson’s mantra of “finding the best 11” to play defense extended to a comment that indicated if personnel dictated, WVU could play a 4-2-5. While that might seem to be a “what the heck” statement, there’s supporting logic there.
First, WVU wouldn’t totally junk the 3-3-5. There are too many players that fit that scheme to simply dump it all. However, a 4-2-5 alignment on some snaps isn’t out of the question. in previous years, the Mountaineers have used that look on obvious passing downs at times, even when the fourth lineman was actually more of a linebacker.
Second, with its versatility with the spurs, bandits and outside linebackers, differing alignments on the back end aren’t a huge change. WVU often brings in an extra safety or a corner to get a linebacker that is more run-stopping oriented out of the game on third-and-long situations, so adjusting that to take advantage of defensive line depth, if that proves out as hoped, isn’t a far-fetched idea. However, it’d be the shock of the year to see the 3-3-5 totally disappear.