CHARLESTON-While the lion’s share of interest among the nearly 6,000 fans that sat in the cold at the University of Charleston’s Laidley Field on Saturday to witness the Mountaineers final ‘road’ practice prior to Saturday’s annual Gold/Blue Scrimmage surrounded the performances of the quarterbacks, running backs and defense, that wasn’t the case for coordinators Shannon Dawson (offense) and Tony Gibson (defense).
“There are 11 guys out there so it’s really unfair to place the blame for a play breaking down on one or two kids,” said Dawson. “We’ll look at the film and we’ll see where the breakdowns occurred, but it’s unfair to put all the blame on the quarterbacks or the running backs because we were rotating them in and out the entire practice.”
Words echoed by Gibson.
“I was pleased with the aggressive way we played,” said the first-year defensive coordinator. “I wasn’t happy with some of the penalties, but we were able to force some turnovers and turned one of those into six points.”
Offensively, the old gold and blue had its moments as junior Dustin Garrison, who led the team in rushing as a freshman with 742 yards and 11 touchdowns, found the end zone twice. But, there were just as many moments when the unit broke down, having to settle for Josh Lambert field goals or surrendering a safety when junior college transfer Skyler Howard got trapped in the end zone.
“Overall, we (the offensive line) are working well as a unit and we are always finding ways to push each other and make each other work harder,” senior guard Mark Glowinski said. “You have to keep yourself going, you have to keep your mind focused in order to not let up at all.”
To the offense’s credit, there was little let up during the 11-on-11 portion of the practice.
The same could be said for the defense.
“We (the defense) did some really good things out there today,” Gibson continued. “We were playing fast and we were playing aggressive and those are the two things we have really been emphasizing this spring.”
That fast, aggressive play was evident from the beginning as big hits were recorded by safeties Karl Joseph, K.J. Dillon and Jeremy Tyler. Tyler’s middle of the field blast of Dremius Smith sent the Mountaineers’ top returning rusher to the locker room early and puts in question his availability for the spring’s final scrimmage.
The defensive line also generated some pressure of its own. Christian Brown, Noble Nwachukwu, Eric Kinsey and backup nose tackle Darrien Howard all spent time in the offensive backfield while cornerbacks Ishmael Banks and Brandon Napoleon gave fans glimpses of what may be a pair of ‘shutdown’ corners this fall.
Back on offense, the quarterback battle continues as senior Paul Millard played steady and avoided big mistakes, but again failed to show fans that he will be in the starting lineup when WVU takes on Alabama in its season opener.
Howard continued to struggle and was removed from the scrimmage on a pair of drives.
Watching closely was senior Clint Trickett, who is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
The battle at running back continues to unfold and Garrison’s play on Saturday will certainly improve his chances of seeing more than just a minimal number of carries in 2014. However, Pitt transfer Rushel Shell as well as sophomore Wendell Smallwood and junior Andrew Buie had their moments.
That’s not the case at the receiver slots as the unit displayed more of a mixed bag of abilities.
Redshirt freshman Jacky Marcellus and sophomore Devonte Mathis made the biggest impressions on the day while top returnees Mario Alford, Daikiel Shorts, Kevin White, Jordan Thompson and K.J. Myers were somewhat missing-in-action.
“There are just so many things you have to look at, so to stand here and say it was this guy’s fault or that guy’s fault, I’m not going to do,” said Dawson. “We’ll look at the film before practice tomorrow (Sunday) and then we will go out there and try and correct the mistakes we made today.
“We have five practices left and they are going to be very important for a lot of these players. But, it’s also going to be very hard to sit down and pick a depth chart with so many players having the ups and downs players have.”
Fans will get their final opportunity to witness spring practice when the team hosts the annual Gold/Blue Scrimmage at 1 p.m. Admission is $10 with part of that going to the WVU Children’s Hospital.