Spring Football Observations

  • April 15, 2010 05:39 PM
  • |
Posted by John Antonik on Thursday, April 15, 2010
(5:40 pm)

  Chris Neild

After a week of watching spring football practice, here are some of my rapid-fire observations and opinions ...

- Coley White is throwing the ball much, much better this year. He can now comfortably get the ball 40-45 yards down the field and his short-range passes have much more zip and much tighter spirals on them.

- West Virginia finally has some depth at defensive line - and with Chris Neild, Scooter Berry and Julian Miller returning - this could be the Mountaineers’ best front three since they adopted the 3-3 stack defense.

- Timing and polish is going to be a big issue for the offense with Geno Smith not being able to scrimmage. Smith is throwing the ball really well (one reporter told me he thought Smith had the best combination of touch, accuracy and arm strength he’s seen since Marc Bulger and I tend to agree) but the question will be how much mobility he has when he is fully cleared to play. Geno’s mobility will likely determine how much of the playbook offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen will have access to, at least for the first half of the season.

“He sees the field,” Bill Stewart said of Smith following last Saturday’s practice. “We are giving him two-play combinations and he’s thrown the ball really well.”

- There is still a pretty big gap between the first and second groups on both sides of the ball. Stewart was not happy with Wednesday’s practice and some of that had to do with the fact that a lot of the front line guys were wearing red and green jerseys.

- The right side of the offensive line remains a concern.

- Brad Starks needs to have a big season in 2010. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder has tremendous athletic ability and could be a big downfield playmaker for the Mountaineers, but heading into his junior year he has caught only three touchdown passes in 21 career games. Last year as a sophomore, Starks averaged less than 10 yards per catch after averaging 14 yards per reception as a freshman.

- The players really like the new plays Mullen added this spring to help spring loose Noel Devine, Jock Sanders and Tavon Austin. It would be great to see Devine, Sanders and Austin get a combined 400-450 touches this year. Four hundred touches averages out to about 30 per game for those three guys over the course of a 13-game season.

- West Virginia has three pretty effective weapons in the return game in Devine, Sanders and Austin. Getting a few touchdowns on special teams this season is not out of the question, and that would be a big boost to a young offense.

- I think West Virginia finally has two tight ends capable of being more involved in the passing game this year in Tyler Urban and Will Johnson. The question remains, however, do you want the tight ends getting a bunch of balls that would otherwise go to Devine, Sanders, Austin or Starks?

- I will be very surprised if Robert Sands doesn’t have an outstanding junior season. He covers the field the way Barrett Green did a decade ago - with much greater size and vision. I am told by the strength staff that Sands runs a legit 4.4 and at 6-feet-5 and 220 pounds, that's a pretty lethal combination.

- For whatever reason, each spring there always seems to be a shortage of players at a particular position and this year is no different. The Mountaineers only have three quarterbacks taking part in spring drills, plus they have also run into depth problems at running back with all of the players wearing red and green jerseys. That has forced the coaching staff to come up with some creative solutions to make sure the rest of the players are still getting the quality reps that they need.

- West Virginia has some of the best teaching coaches in the business. There isn’t a practice that goes by when I don’t see a coach with his arm around a player explaining something. That is one of the reasons why the Mountaineers have been so successful through the years at developing players.

Thursday’s Notes …

  • WAJR (1440-AM) in Morgantown will be picking up the remainder of the home baseball schedule, beginning with this weekend’s three-game series against 12th-ranked Louisville. Kyle Wiggs and Ernie Galuski will handle the call. All games will also be available online through MSNsportsNET.com.

    Here is the WAJR broadcast schedule for the remainder of the regular season:

    April 16, Louisville
    April 17, Louisville
    April 18, Louisville
    April 23, Pitt
    April 24, Pitt
    April 25, Pitt
    April 27, Duquesne
    May 1, at Cincinnati
    May 2, at Cincinnati
    May 8, Notre Dame (2)
    May 9, Notre Dame
    May 11, Bethune Cookman
    May 12, Bethune Cookman
    May 20, Villanova
    May 21, Villanova
    May 22, Villanova

      Da'Sean Butler

  • Sports information director Byran Messerly received a wonderful note from Agnes Channel’s caretaker complimenting Da’Sean Butler for taking time out of his busy schedule to visit Mrs. Channel in the hospital before West Virginia’s trip to the Final Four. Sadly, Agnes passed away earlier this week at another facility. Included in her obituary was a passage about meeting Butler and how it was such a special moment in her life.

    Speaking of Da’Sean, he was in the office today signing some autographs. He is still on crutches following successful knee surgery and he said the rehabilitation process is already underway.

  • One online NBA mock draft I have seen has West Virginia’s Devin Ebanks going in the first round to the Boston Celtics and Butler going late in the second round to the Indiana Pacers. Another one I saw didn’t have Ebanks going in the first round.

    ESPN draft expert Chad Ford has Ebanks presently rated 33rd among his Top 100 prospects, which probably means Devin is going to have to have some great personal workouts to convince GMs that he is worthy of being a first round selection.

    Butler, meanwhile, has slipped to 67th in Ford’s player rankings following his unfortunate knee injury against Duke in the Final Four.

    Ford projects both Butler and Ebanks as small forwards in the NBA.

    The last time West Virginia had two players drafted in the same year was 1983 when Greg Jones and Russel Todd were taken. Of course back then the draft encompassed many more rounds than it does today.

  • West Virginia’s top three NFL prospects are offensive tackle Selvish Capers, quarterback Jarrett Brown and wide receiver Alric Arnett. ESPN draft expert Todd McShay has Capers grouped with the third rounders, Brown with the fifth rounders and Arnett with the sixth rounders.

    As for Brown, McShay rates him second in the QB class for release and arm strength and third in mobility. Overall, McShay has Brown rated 10th among available quarterbacks.

    Capers was the only WVU player listed among McShay’s Top 100 prospects.

  • The NCAA recently arrived at a compromise on printed media guides. A movement has been in place for several years to completely eliminate media guides and brochures because some schools have gone completely overboard on the quality and the quantity of their printed media guides.

    But instead of abolishing them, the NCAA this year is prohibiting schools from sending printed publications to prospective student-athletes.

    In recent years, after the NCAA adopted page limitations for media guides, many schools began printing two separate publications: one a higher quality book aimed specifically for recruits and another for record keeping purposes.

    According to Michael Fragale, assistant athletic director for communications at WVU, the biggest impact from this recent ruling will likely be in the number of media guides schools choose to print.

    “Otherwise, nothing will change,” said Fragale.

  • Nathaniel Zinn, West Virginia’s assistant director of sports marketing, recently passed along some impressive women’s basketball attendance trends.

    Most notably:

    - West Virginia posted four of the top 10 crowds in Coliseum history for the second straight year, including the third largest crowd ever against Georgetown (6,754) on Feb. 14.

    - The Mountaineers averaged nearly 2,000 for regular season games and almost 3,000 for Big East home games this year

    - West Virginia has had crowds of at least 3,000 for 10 of the last 11 weekend home conference games dating back to 2008

    - Since Mike Carey took over the WVU program in 2002, West Virginia has experienced a 232 percent increase in average home attendance

    All signs point to continued growth. West Virginia returns its entire roster from last year’s team that went 29-6 and finished ranked 16th in the country.

  • And finally, earlier this week West Virginia’s Jedd Gyorko was one of the national players of the week recognized by Collegiate Baseball Magazine after going 10 for 25 at the plate with five home runs and 11 runs scored, yet he was not even included in this week’s Big East Conference honor roll.

    How does that happen?

    Here is where Jedd presently stacks up among the best hitters in school history:

    Career Batting Average, 1st (.403)
    Doubles, 3rd (61)
    Extra Base Hits, 3rd (93)
    Runs Scored, 3rd (176)
    Multi-Hit Games, 4th (75)
    Hits, 5th (240)

    Keep in mind, Gyorko has produced these impressive numbers in just 2 ½ years of play. In my book, Jedd is already the best pure hitter in school history.

    Have a great weekend!