MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The second week of West Virginia's fall football camp begins today with another closed session at the Mountaineer football complex. With the first four practice sessions in the books -- none of which were in pads -- it's not time yet to draw conclusions on some of the specific questions facing this team, but as always there are a number of interesting observations to be made, and some humorous nuggets to share, from week one.
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We have highlighted the coaching staff's approach in emphasizing fundamentals and details throughout the spring and OTAs. That didn't cease in the fall, although some work also began in putting together units for work that will eventually go into the makeup of entire on-field units.
The staff is working on both sides of that coaching fence, but isn't ignoring the basics of teaching and how players respond to it. After one recent practice rep, in which a young player didn't execute a fundamental as desired, the position coach involved corrected him. The youngster hung his head, which was met by another teaching point.
"When I coach you, don't hang your head," the coach said, making sure that his teaching point wasn't lost in the player's disappointment. "Learn from it."
That combination of teaching and correction is probably one of the best approaches with today's players.
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It's too early to identify the winners of some of the position battles many fans are interested in. Quarterback, of course, dominates that discussion, but there are also spots like Will linebacker, where Jairo Faverus, Trey Lathan and Ben Cutter are competing for time. The one positive, at least to this point, is that there are battles underway there, as well as in the secondary, and that starting jobs aren't being won by degault.
Then there are players who, for whatever reason, seem to flash or stand out during some practice sessions. Sometimes that's due to their play, but sometimes it might be coincidence, especially when that's based on the experience of one observer, who might be viewing drills and practice reps while the same player cycles through different stations, thus increasing his exposure to that viewer. But it also could be that the player in question is really showing up well, going hard in drills and executing what the coaches want, and thus standing out.
All of this is to point out that information from different viewpoints is important in trying to judge who's making progress and who might have more work to do. The coaches' views are obviously the most important, but in-person evaluations of all the practices which are open to the media also help add context.
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With all that in mind, there are some players that have popped up on our radar screen during the first week, outside of those that were expected to be major contributors coming in.
In the secondary alone, Andrew Wilson-Lamp, Malachi Ruffin and Jacolby Spells are making notable improvements and earning notice. Transfer Anthony Wilson has always seemed to be in the front of the line and in view, and Montre Miller and Beanie Bishop are also taking on leadership roles both on and off the field.
To reiterate, this is by no means a complete list, and shouldn't be considered as such. It doesn't mean these players are headed for All-America status right off the bat. But it does consist of some players that will likely be in competition for important roles as camp progresses.
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As always, there are a handful of new drills, and variations on old standards, making an appearance during the initial days of the new session. Several of those have the aim of getting defenders used to finding the ball quickly and moving into position for a tackle.
While tackling technique and fundamental execution have been a staple of drills for a long time, this set of quick practice reps is designed to put a defender in the dark, without an idea of where the ball is, then getting him to find it and get to a spot where he can employ the fundamentals of breaking down and wrapping up the ball carrier. They may not look like a lot when watching a practice, but defenders who get spun in the mixer of of a play but can still keep their balance, heads and ball location ability are going make more tackles.
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Player identification in fall camp can be a challenge. While most every player has picked out his digits for the coming season, the combination of changes from a year ago, along with the use of red, green and gold jerseys, signifying different status of the players for that day, can lead to some confusion, especially as a full set of those off-color uppers aren't available.
For example, Sean Martin, who wears ordinarily wears No. 91, was in a green No. 20 jersey for the first week. A green jersey signifies some limits on activity, but if you don't know the players by sight, it can be difficult to figure out who might be missing from some reps.
Then there are the specialists, who, along with the QBs, wear gold jerseys, signifying no contact during practice. The QBs usually, but not always, have their correct numbers, but the kickers, punters and holders sometimes get left with what's available. That caused some confusion after a recent practice, when attempts to identify a kicker at practice bounced between two different candidates, even with the assistance of WVU staffers.
To top it off, there are those who change their numbers in the off-season, such as CJ Donaldson, Lee Kpogba and Jaylen Anderson, among others. Many of those moves come as players grab single-digit uniforms, which are a status symbol for some. Other moves come from moving to a number that the player previously wore, but was unavailable upon initial arrival at school. Those observers who have carefully learned numbers so they can quickly identify players must then clear their memory banks of some of those associations and learn the new assignments.
None of this constitutes a huge problem, but it is something of an exercise in camp as all of the changes are assimilated. Perhaps a full set of the off-color jerseys could be sponsored by some company in return for a patch or ad spot on them?
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Sometimes the old school is the best school.
Three years ago, WVU acquired a robotic ball thrower known as "The Seeker". Basically, it's a six-ball Gatling gun that can be set to mimic any sort of throw a QB can make. That was hoped to help receivers get as many different passes thrown to them as they could handle without wearing out the arms of the QBs on the roster.
The device can be elevated and set to launch balls at any angle, which means it can also be used to help returners in their efforts to track and catch balls. Unfortunately, during a recent practice, The Seeker suffered something of a Cyberdyne systems meltdown, and refused to send balls airborne for a fun competition period involving linemen catching simulated punts. When a fix attempt also failed, WVU punter Oliver Straw was called upon to provide the real deal.