MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Six spring football practices are now in the books and Coach Dana Holgorsen has chosen to give the team a week off for spring break. The Mountaineers will reconvene on Tuesday, April 3, and will have eight more workouts leading into the Gold-Blue Spring Game on Saturday, April 21.
Holgorsen’s assistant coaches stuck around after Thursday’s practice to provide an update on where the Mountaineers are after the first week and a half of work. Here are some of their impressions:
- Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh says he is still searching for depth. For the past two years, the starters have taken the majority of the game reps and Bedenbaugh would like to have more backups ready to go this fall.
“The first group is really good, a couple of backups OK, and then a couple of kids not very good,” he said. “The young guys need to improve everything.”
Bolstering the line is the return of senior offensive guard Josh Jenkins, a three-year starter who missed 2011 with a knee injury sustained in last year’s spring game. Jenkins knows what he’s doing but like everyone else, he needs to continue to improve, says Bedenbaugh.
“He retained a bunch of stuff,” said Bedenbaugh. “He was in a lot of the meetings, out there coaching, so he is a guy who has experience and he understands the offense.”
Bedenbaugh says seeing a 3-4 defensive alignment every day in practice will be helpful when the Mountaineers begin preparing for the teams they will face in the Big 12 this fall.
“It is some of the stuff we are going to see and it’s one of the toughest defenses to play against because they can disguise things on one side and then they bring it on the other side, so you have to be sharp and read different things,” he explained.
The five guys working with the ones right now are Joe Madsen at center, Josh Jenkins and Jeff Braun at guard and Pat Eger and Quinton Spain at tackle.
“The first group looks good,” Holgorsen said earlier this week. “They have a chance to be as good as we’ve had. Joe Madsen is a leader and is doing a fantastic job. Jeff Braun looks twice as good as he did in camp last year. He’s in better shape, he’s healthy and he understands.
“With Josh Jenkins coming back he brings experience. Pat Eger is more confident than he’s been and Quinton Spain is more confident. Those first-level guys are doing good things,” Holgorsen said. “When the second guys get in there it resembles a little bit what it was like a year ago. When you’ve got three guys coming to the quarterback it looks like crap. When you hand the ball off to the back and you’ve got people behind the block it doesn’t look very good.”
Bedenbaugh said he would like to see more competition from the twos. He singled out Curtis Feigt and Nick Kindler as the two guys being the closest to the ones.
- A lack of numbers continues to show at running back and quarterback. With Dustin Garrison still recuperating from off-season knee surgery, the vast majority of the running back reps have fallen on sophomore Andrew Buie, with seniors Shawne Alston and Ryan Clarke picking up the rest.
Running backs coach Robert Gillespie is pleased with Buie’s development so far and is noticing a much more mature player out there this spring.
“He’s been doing an excellent job,” said Gillespie. “You can see that the offseason program has definitely helped and these extra reps are paying dividends.”
Because Buie’s workload has increased, the week off comes at a good time to give his body time to heal up. In the meantime, Ryan Clarke, used primarily as a blocker last year, has gotten more carries than usual this spring. Gillespie called him a “dark horse.”
This fall, the running backs corps will be bolstered by the additions of Torry Clayton and Roshard Burney, signed in February.
Meanwhile, under center, quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital is dealing with the same issues the Mountaineers had last fall – sore arms. But at least this spring the sore arms are relegated to the players and not the coaches as well. Spavital has three scholarship quarterbacks to work with in senior Geno Smith, sophomore Paul Millard and freshman Ford Childress. And all three have become well acquainted with the ice machine.
“Geno, Paul and Ford’s arms are pretty dead,” said Spavital. “We’ll give them a good week to relax and then get back into it next week. I need to start cutting the reps down of individuals, because it is pretty taxing on a quarterback’s arm when you’re throwing 500 to 1,000 balls.”
Right now Smith is obviously working with the ones with Childress and Millard alternating with the twos.
- Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, who works specifically with the wide receivers, says his group has been up and down so far this spring. Dawson would like to see his guys hold onto the football a little bit more.
“I’ll give credit to the defense because they’re real aggressive – real aggressive at corner and making us work for releases – but if I had to letter grade it, I would give it a C or a C-minus. We can do better, a lot better,” he said.
Dawson has two returning 1,000-yard receivers to work with in Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, and a handful of others with game experience.
Two young players pushing to get into the mix are redshirt freshman Dante Campbell and true freshman Jordan Thompson. Campbell has outstanding size to work the middle of the field (6-feet-4, 215 pounds) while Sparks is small and elusive. In his two media sessions so far this spring Holgorsen has talked about both.
- On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Joe DeForest says he feels pretty good about where his unit is right now.
“The kids have picked it up, the coaches have jelled and it’s all coming together,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do after spring break, but I’m pleased with the progress we are making.”
DeForest, who works with the safeties, said he is happy with the overall effort the guys have put forth while singling out the play of senior outside linebacker Josh Francis.
“Josh Francis is an impressive player because he plays so hard all the time,” DeForest said.
DeForest can foresee Francis playing a role similar to what Von Miller did at Texas A&M rushing the passer from the edge.
“Josh is similar to Von in that he’s a quick-twitch guy – he’s not as big as Von was, but we’d like to mold him into that guy and use him in that capacity,” said DeForest. “That’s probably the most impressive thing I’ve seen on defense, but they play hard every down and their practice tempo is remarkable.”
Co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, who works with the linebackers, has also been impressed with Francis.
“He’s an extremely explosive blitzer off the edge, and he’s hard for the offensive linemen to handle, so he’s had a great spring,” said Patterson.
Among the linebackers, Patterson singled out the improvement being made Isaiah Bruce, Tyler Anderson and Taige Redman. Patterson says he is looking for Doug Rigg and Jared Barber to take on more of a leadership role this fall.
Defensive backfield coach Daron Roberts has been pleased with the intensity and the tempo from his guys so far.
“We still are missing some assignments that we have to get ironed out over the next nine practices but the one thing we have been stressing to the defense is effort, attitude and I felt like over the six practices we have seen some good play out of the corners and the safeties,” Roberts said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how we progress after spring break.”
The four Roberts mentioned at corner right now are returners Pat Miller and Brodrick Jenkins, as well as Avery Williams and Terrell Chestnut - a touted freshman who was sidelined last year while recovering from shoulder surgery.
Roberts said the biggest change for his guys is working more on press coverage this spring.
“I come from a background where the first thing you teach is press technique so the first six practices we work press and getting our hands on the receivers and I feel like over those six practices they have done a good job of embracing that technique,” said Roberts. “But I’ve been a little disappointed with the finish. We’ve got to do a better job of being scrappy. Corners can make a name for themselves by being scrappy.”
Up front, defensive line coach Erik Slaughter is anxious to see how much his players retain when they return to the field on April 3.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff in that’s been new for them, and they’ve played extremely hard, which is all you can ask for,” he said. “We’ll come back and be starting over, because it’s new to them so we’ll see how much carries over.”
Slaughter says he will continue to take a positive approach with his players.
“We’re getting steadily better – and I’m a positive person,” he said. “I don’t like getting yelled at and degraded; I perform better with a pat on the back. I’m going to push them hard, work them hard and love them harder. We’re going to be out there every day working, and there’s no rule in football that says you can’t have fun while we’re doing it.”
Some of the defensive players that have caught Holgorsen’s eye through the early part of spring drills are safety Travis Bell, and defensive linemen Will Clarke and Jorge Wright. He specifically mentioned those three earlier this week when asked about the progress of the defense.
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