WVU coaches anxious to settle on starters
MORGANTOWN - West Virginia still has essentially three work weeks remaining until the Aug. 31 season opener against William & Mary, but as far as settling on starters, much of the job needs to be completed this week.
That's because beginning a week from today, classes begin and instead of spending all day on football, the players will spend only a few hours. The week after that begins the game-week routine.
And West Virginia's coaches couldn't be more anxious to settle on starters. That's because all the experimenting and shuffling creates little cohesiveness.
"The fact is we're playing guys now that won't be playing in games,'' coach Dana Holgorsen said.
Take the offense, for example.
"There are times where we look really good and there are times when one guy messes up and makes us look like we don't know what the heck we're doing,'' said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. "It's frustrating at times, but I think the one thing we have to keep in mind, too, is there's a certain amount of patience it takes.
"We're trying to put pieces of the puzzle together, and like we're doing it with a bunch of guys who are inexperienced. The main thing with those guys is they can't get frustrated.''
Part of that is because the main players still haven't been identified. That's why it's important to begin paring it down by the end of camp on Saturday.
"I was talking to one kid [Saturday] morning and he's like 'I just don't feel like I'm playing like I know I can play.' I told him it's because things aren't instinctive to him yet. That's natural. He's learning a whole different system,'' Dawson said. "Once it becomes instinctive, where when you see the signal you execute the play and your natural ability takes over, then that's when you're going to become the player you know you are. It's a process.''
With Joe DeForest now the Mountaineers' full-time special teams coach, it means the kickers don't get much of a break in practice. That was not always the case at West Virginia.
A generation ago, the kickers, holders and long-snappers would warm up with the team, go through special teams periods, then would basically be excused until special teams work at the end of practice. They would often go into the then-new Puskar Center and play pool to kill the time.
More recently, the format was adjusted and instead of playing pool, the specialists would go to another field and work by themselves with limited supervision.
And now it's been adjusted again. The format is essentially the same, but now DeForest goes with them to one of the other practice fields.
"It's great. All spring and all camp, he's been with us every minute of every day,'' kicker Josh Lambert said. "He's with us during our drills, he's with us pre-practice, he's with us all day during our video session. It's great. We haven't had that before.''
Lambert actually said he knows what it used to be like, when the kickers were all but forgotten during practice for the "real'' team.
"We did it in high school,'' Lambert said.
Speaking of kickers, while Lambert seems to have the placekicking job to himself, the job of kicking off remains wide open. DeForest seems to feel that if he can find someone else to do it, he will.
"I don't think [Lambert] has an advantage over anyone, so I'm thinking about not putting the extra work on him if he's not going to be head and shoulders above anybody else,'' DeForest said. "I don't want to take the chance [of burning him out] if he's going to be our [field goal and PAT] kicker.''
And that's pretty much a given. DeForest won't say it because he doesn't want Lambert to get complacent, but Holgorsen said the day camp opened and there was just one kicker on the roster that Lambert was unquestionably the guy.
Since then, the team has added freshman Mike Molina from Hurricane, in part to do some of the placekicking in special teams work and thus save Lambert's leg, and in part to compete for the kickoff job. He's doing so with Lambert, punter/holder Mike Molinari and junior college punter Nick O'Toole.
By all indications, Molinari is booming his kickoffs and might have the edge in the battle. But Lambert likes what he's seen of the 150-pound freshman Molina.
"Mike Molina, the little kid? He's got a great leg,'' Lambert said. "It's not about your size, it's about your leg speed. He's got a big leg for a little kid. He's a good kicker.''
And finally, Holgorsen was talking last week about the start of full contact and the fact that one of the first things the team did was the famous Oklahoma drill - a running back using single blockers to navigate through levels of defenders.
Most never consider another name for it - although Bill Stewart's staff called it the Victory drill - but now that WVU and Oklahoma are conference rivals, it somehow just doesn't see right.
"Yeah, we had the discussion with some of our coaches if we can please change the name of this drill. What makes them so special?'' Holgorsen said. "It's just the drill and it's known around the country as the Oklahoma drill. I'm sure some people have changed the name, but maybe we're just not smart enough.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1.