WHEELING, W.Va. – It was a win-win situation here at Wheeling Island Stadium on Saturday for Mountaineer football. West Virginia fans in the Ohio Valley got an opportunity to see how coach Dana Holgorsen runs a football practice, and Holgorsen’s players were able to experience a different work environment this afternoon.
Somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 fans showed up to watch West Virginia’s spring football practice under sunny skies with mid-afternoon temperatures approaching the mid-50s.
As for today’s practice, there was some good and some not so good, particularly on offense, according to offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson.
Of the three, Howard took the majority of the reps during the team portion of practice.
“We are far, far from where we want to be. I thought it was at least an average performance,” said Dawson.
Dawson thought the Mountaineer running backs did some good things this afternoon, and he was also impressed with the way the defense was able to perform in red zone situations. But he was also disappointed that the offense turned the ball over and also had some communication issues with Howard under center.
Dawson admitted a lot of that was a product of having an inexperienced quarterback taking the bulk of the reps this afternoon.
“With Skyler the communication part is not there yet,” he said. “The kid is talented but when you’re trying to communicate and your wheels are spinning there is zero chance of playing instinctive, and today was not good as far as that goes.
“He was real hesitant and we never got into a real flow because of our communication,” Dawson added. “Now the other guys, I thought they played pretty fast and pretty good. Paul has been doing it a while.”
Dawson explained that it is important for Howard to take more reps right now so he can get a better grasp of the offense.
“It was the same thing we did with Clint in the fall,” said Dawson. “The new guy has to get more reps because we’ve got to see what he can do.”
For Howard, some of the issues today were the result of running some different parts of the offense this afternoon.
“If you look at our practice that’s the second rotation through, so that’s the second time he’s repped those plays,” Dawson explained. “It’s a process that everybody goes through. Some people catch on the communication faster than others. Our practice the other day there was probably a little better communication than there was today.”
There are some things you see right away with Howard that are certainly encouraging. First are his feet, which can get him out of trouble when the pocket collapses.
You can also see some leadership qualities even though he’s only been out there for a handful of practices. And although he doesn’t have Geno Smith’s arm strength, he does get rid of the football quickly without having to wind up to throw it.
“He’s got a quick release, but all of that stuff is kind of hard to see because I don’t think we got into any kind of rhythm,” said Dawson. “He’s got some intangibles, but he’s got to perform.
“When Clint gets back he’s going to get reps, too,” added Dawson.
The offensive coordinator had some good things to say about the running backs. Rising senior Dreamius Smith
ran the ball well, as did Wendell Smallwood
, and Pitt transfer Rushel Shell
showed flashes too, scoring a touchdown during the team portion of practice.
However, Dawson would like to see some of his backs run a little lower when they get close to the goal line.
“There were a couple of times we were a little bit high on the short yardage deals,” he said.
Today’s practice was the sixth of the spring. The Mountaineers will resume spring work on Tuesday afternoon at Milan Puskar Stadium.
The next opportunity for the general public to observe practice is next Saturday afternoon in Morgantown. West Virginia will also travel to Charleston on Saturday, April 5, for an open practice at Laidley Field.