MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia University football coaching staff met with the media on Thursday, August 10, 2017, at the Milan Puskar Center Team Room.
Assistant coach (Cornerbacks) Doug Belk
On who the top four guys are right now at the cornerback position
The same guys, the older guys. (Senior cornerback) Mike (Daniels Jr.), (senior cornerback) Elijah (Battle), (redshirt freshman cornerback) Jake (Long), some of those type guys.
On the most surprising thing about practice the last couple of days
Just the competiveness in practice between the receivers and the (defensive backs). It’s been getting pretty chippy here lately so it has been good for us to see as coaches for them to compete at a high-level as we get closer to the game.
On where the cornerbacks are technique-wise
In their opinion, probably doing pretty well. For me, I would like to see more consistency in what they do on a daily basis as far as technique and finishing plays. There is still some room for improvement there, but I think we will be ready to go.
Assistant Coach (Defense/Special Teams) Mark Scott
On how the punting situation is going
It’s been good, both guys have been solid. What we’ve done a really good job of as we’ve progressed this fall is not only working as many bodies as we can on punt, but trying to get our punt and punt-block units quality reps by going good on good as much as we can. We’re putting our guys in the front line and putting our shield in as tough of a position as we possibly can. I don’t want to look too far ahead but I think we all know Virginia Tech’s track record when it comes to special teams and blocking kids. So, we have to put those guys under as much stress as we can. We’ve gotten a lot better from the first few practices and we’re continuing to get better and working new bodies who can protect and get out in coverage. (Redshirt junior kicker/punter) Billy (Kinney) and (redshirt freshman kicker/punter) Jonn (Young) have been good; they need to continue to get more consistent and, the biggest thing, at times it’s been good, we’ve been fairly consistent, but ball placement; where we want it if we’re across the field, if we’re kicking into the boundary. We need that ball to match up with our coverage. They’ve been good but we just need to continue to improve in that.
On if the team has gotten a chance to work on kickoffs yet
We’re still teaching fundamentals and working drills – how to defeat blocks based off different reads and where our eyes have to be, how we want to defeat blocks and how we want to play off each other. We’re going to work three as of right now. If we can take that off (redshirt senior kicker) Mike Molina
’s plate, we will. Again, between (redshirt freshman kicker/punter) Jonn (Young) and (redshirt freshman kicker) Luke Hogan
and (redshirt freshman kicker) Evan Staley
, we have three guys with really strong legs. We’re going to continue to work all three until we need to really pair it down. But, again, we need to make sure that if we are directionally kicking, we need to get the ball to where it needs to be so it matches up with our coverage. Otherwise, we have 10 guys that have to cover the entire field and that’s not the position we want to put those guys in.
On who he’s looking at on punt returns
We’ve been working different guys the entire time. Depending on who we’re playing, what their scheme is and the situation of the game, we feel comfortable. Obviously, (junior receiver) Gary (Jennings) is dependable. So far, he has taken his game to the next level both at receiver and I think he feels more comfortable, more confident in catching the ball and going on punt returns. But (junior receiver) David Sills (V) is a guy who is very similar to Gary in terms of dependability. Then, you have (sophomore receiver) Marcus Simms
and (freshman running back) Tevin Bush
that are electric with the ball in their hands. We just need to continue to get those guys as many reps as we can. We’ve been really working those four guys and, right now, we feel good about any of them. But we’ll get them as many reps as they can get and get a feel for the situation of the game and how many reps those guys are playing on offense will determine who goes out there and when.
Assistant Coach (Defensive Line) Bruce Tall
On what he wants to see in the next week of camp
We’re going to try to stay on the same course we’re on, going to try and treat it like it’s a regular camp mold. Then, as we get closer to school starting, we’ll get more into game prep. I want to keep that progression, I want to keep rotating guys to make sure they feel comfortable about the rotation we have.
On how freshmen can balance playing football and school
One of the things we’re blessed with now is you can bring these guys in early so they get a little bit of that early on. Then, of course, there’s summer school early on in camp, so they’re having to do that. Honestly, camp is harder because there’s no such thing as the 20 hours rules, so we can do whatever we need to time-wise with them. But there’s no question now they’ll have to take on a full load and that’s the toughest part. That’s part of the reason we do not play young guys because balancing can be hard.
On seeing differences between players in practice and how they play on the field
I think there’s question that sometimes you’ll see different things that you wouldn’t see on the practice field, like the type of play they play. But a lot of players think with the mindset of, ‘Coach, play me and I’ll show you.’ Well no, show me and I’ll play you.
Assistant Coach (Safeties) Matt Caponi
He showed us last year that he can play big-time football. His work ethic and what he does on and off the field to get himself in that position shows when he’s on the field doing things. I saw that it was there. He had a pretty good spring and he’s still developing this fall. He’s got the tools. He can run; he’s physical. He had a really good fall camp last year and the first two games he played a lot. Then, he got banged up a bit and started getting back to himself at the end of the year. So, that carried over into spring ball and, hopefully, carries over here into the last few weeks of camp and into the season.
On how last year’s senior safeties helped improve depth at safety
We had a good group of core guys and veteran guys that had played a lot when (redshirt junior safety) Dravon (Askew-Henry) went down last year and they were willing to step in, do what it takes, play different positions and lead by example. Nobody panicked. Obviously, it would’ve been great to have Dravon last year, but those guys did a great job at getting the younger guys ready to play to create that depth. So, my hat’s off to Jeremy (Tyler) and Jarrod (Harper) for doing what they did and being able to hold down the defense on the back end, play at a high level, show veteran leadership and be role models for those younger we trying to develop, such as (redshirt junior safety) Toyous (Avery), (sophomore safety) Jovanni (Stewart) and those guys.
On if he’s getting what he wants from the safety position
No, I’m not. We talk about it all the time during summertime and beginning of fall camp. The expectations for this position group are set pretty high. I think they read the press clippings too much right now, but we’re far away. We didn’t practice very well yesterday. It’s about making the corrections and challenging these guys to want to get better and be that position group we’re expected to be. So, I’m not very happy right now.
Assistant Coach (Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks) Jake Spavital
On how the offense is progressing
It’s going well. We’re starting to build that continuity that we talked about last time. The more reps, the better we’re going to be. That’s the main thing. My emphasis is just trying to get as many reps as I possibly can throughout this fall camp. The new system, new scheme, new players, it’s something that you have to keep repping until we get some continuity and I feel comfortable enough to roll the ball out there and let them play on their own.
On how different the offensive system is for him this season
It’s very similar, but there are little tweaks that we do to almost every single play. It’s the same concept but maybe it’s a different aiming point or different type of technique. That’s where the reps become involved. Sometimes they go back to their old habits of something they did last year or in previous years. So, you’re just trying to have as many reps as possible to try to get that out of them.
On if he’s starting to see better timing amongst players
I’m starting to. I’m starting to see (redshirt junior quarterback) Will (Grier) become very comfortable with certain players and certain routes. He’s starting to figure out why guys run, say a go ball, why this guy may run it better than most people. He understands that this guy may win deep when you throw it deep or this other guy might be a back-shoulder guy. So, he’s starting to figure out what type of players they are.
On when he typically starts to see the offense clicking
Really, the scrimmage coming up. It’s about this week right now, the second week of fall camp. We’re used to only having two weeks of fall camp, so I’m not too concerned about how we’ve kind of elongated this whole fall camp when you have an extra week of actually going up against good on good for a little bit. But, really, the second week of camp, about halfway through when we start doing more live situations and putting them in different situations in terms of where they’re at on the field from two-minute, to coming out, to red zone, goal line and just see how they operate. Once they start to get a good feel for that, I think that’s when you want that all clicking.
Assistant Coach (Offensive Line) Joe Wickline
On having everything figured out
We’re a long way from having it all figured out. The guys are starting to see a few things; there’s some things you put together and as soon as you think you have it all figured out, you realize all of the holes and you start really watching tape and the phrase ‘a long way to go’ is still there. We’re not ready to quit practice. We have guys still learning – whether that be scheme or technique or fundamentals they’re still learning and still trying to get better. They haven’t gone backwards, they’ve gotten one day better and it was a big day today and now we have to go in and correct things and continue to get better. Because what happens is from a schematic standpoint when you understand who to block, how the scheme is set up categorically, this is the front and the defense and the adjustments, now the mechanics come in. It’s not who to block but how to block. Whether it’s your outside foot, inside foot, double team, pull, zone, we have a lot of mechanics to work on and need to keep getting better
On how things are going this time of year
We’re definitely a work in progress and that goes on every day until this season’s over. So, whether its preseason, middle, or bowl week we’re always going to strive to get better and correct mistakes. Right when you think you’re good at something, you can look around and see we still have ways to go. There’s never a time that you slow down. You need to continue to learn, but it just so happens that this time of the year, it’s still from an installation standpoint. You’re working on certain groupings of stuff. But they’re moving forward, that still leaves them a long way to go but they’re moving forward, we have never gone backwards. We’ve taken it one day at a time and we try to get one day better. That’s our motto here with (head) Coach (Dana) Holgorsen. Let’s get one day better, let’s talk about effort, let’s talk about finish, let’s talk about violence, let’s talk about getting after people, and I think as time goes, you can feel them trying to mold together as a group, not just a first team or second team and so on.
On if he’s surprised by how the people are keeping up
I think we have good people. The recruiting office played a part in that way before I got here because I’m just a small part of what we do here. (Head) Coach (Dana) Holgorsen and (director of player personnel) Coach Dorchester and the people involved, (former offensive line) Coach (Ron) Crook and the selections that they’ve made mean we have good people. I’m not suggesting that when I say we’re moving forward that I’m satisfied with where we are or I’m not suggesting that were doing well. I’m just saying where we are at, we’re taking steps forward. I can see some improving areas but other areas you have to work hard to get cleaned up. I would think where we are is pretty normal for this time of year and the players are doing a nice job of responding. They’re taking it personal and we think that as long as we continue that mind frame we should get better every day.
Assistant Coach (Running Backs) Tony Dews
On the depth at the running back position
Yeah, we have been well-documented as having some depth in the group. I am enjoying that.
On what he wants to see from his guys in tomorrow’s scrimmage
Execution. Execution of the schemes, the fundamental stuff. To be able to take it from the individual drills and see it on film in a team session in a scrimmage situation. As we know, sometimes when the lights come on it is easy to default back to what you know as opposed to what you have been working on. I would like to see them do that. I would like to see them have fun, enjoy themselves and then be physical. Be physical and be tough.
On what he’s reminding the running backs the most
Those fundamental things. Again, I can talk about ball security until I am blue in the face. Obviously that would take a little while right? Just the fundamentals. Continue stressing the fundamentals because there will be times, like any team or any individual, that you will play against somebody that may be more talented than you are. If you can be fundamentally sound and technically sound then you will always have a chance to win some individual battles that happen within the game.
So far they have been. Again, part of having the depth that we have, it does allow us to be able to rep a lot of guys. It is unique that you have any one of those guys all the way down are capable of playing significant snaps on Saturdays. That has helped us. Maybe that has taken a little bit of the load off of if it was just a clear-cut guy that has been here for three years in the system and the closest backup is a distant second. Then that guy gets the majority of the workload in practice. We have a bunch of guys that are capable of playing so we have been able to distribute the carries pretty equally among them so far.
Assistant Coach (Receivers) Tyron Carrier
He’s definitely physical. It’s just the whole point of understanding how to craft that position. So, at the beginning, he was going through a lot of the growing pains with it, which is learning how to do it on a consistent basis. As a group, that second team is starting to pick it up and you’re starting to notice a lot of plays being made.
He’s getting better and he asks a ton of questions, which is a good thing. He’s not afraid to ask those small questions that most guys know. He’s new to that position. He’s very focused, learning a lot, and just yesterday he made a beautiful, one-handed grab. I think he’s a kid that’s going to get to the point where we’re going to have to use him a lot this season.
On how to coach timing at the wide receiver position
Timing, for me, is technique. So, you have to make the quarterback comfortable so that he knows exactly what you’re doing. I’ll tell the quarterback the indicators they’re going to do or I’ll ask him, ‘What do they need to do to let you know that they’re making their break or tell you they’re about to get separation?’ Me and (redshirt junior quarterback Will (Grier) talked and we agreed upon it. So, I relay the message to those guys, which is exactly what I teach every receiver on how to give the quarterback indication that you’re making your break or you’re about to get open or you’re about to run the route like this. It’s a work in progress. That’s the biggest thing. That timing aspect comes from the receiver doing stuff that helps the quarterback look for him.