WVU football: Players getting excited about practice
MORGANTOWN - The sights preceded the sounds at West Virginia University football practice on Thursday. In one instant, freshman safety K.J. Dillon dominated an Oklahoma drill by wiping out a blocker and a ball carrier before he jumped and thumped his chest while defensive teammates joined him.
An instant later, receiver Dante Campbell was blocking and drove a defensive back to the artificial turf as a huddle of offensive teammates flooded in from the side to celebrate.
The afternoon went like that for almost three hours, with the offense and the defense trading triumphs.
"What I like is it became more competitive and there was more energy as the practice went on," Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "That means these guys are excited about being out there and excited about playing."
It wasn't the first day the Mountaineers had vivid displays of enthusiasm, or the first time they approached or even crossed the line, but it was the most active day.
Holgorsen said the seventh day and eighth practice was an example of how invested everyone is in preparations for a season that begins with WVU ranked No. 11 and expected to compete for the Big 12 Conference championship.
"We coach it. That's what they pay us to do," Holgorsen said. "That's something we believe in. We talk a lot about body language, we talk a lot about confidence, we talk a lot about effort, energy, excitement, a lot of that stuff.
"I truly believe you can coach that stuff, like you coach guys where to line up and like you coach specific plays. The guys have to buy into it and feel good about it and want to do it, but you coach it and steer them in the right direction."
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THE OKLAHOMA drill started practice, but Holgorsen ended it with about 20 plays in the part of the field he calls the score zone - similar to the red zone.
"Fun," he said. "One thing as a head coach that gets me kind of fired up is we put the ball down and play it and score and the offense runs into the end zone and has a good time. The next time we put it down and play it, we throw an interception in the end zone and the defense hoots and hollers.
"They have a good time going back and forth. Anytime it's just completely one sided, you're not going to be any good. When it goes back and forth, you have a chance to be successful."
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THAT 20-PLAY live scrimmage situation is about as long as Holgorsen will let his offense go against his defense in either the spring or preseason.
"I don't like scrimmages," he said.
Rather than have a 120-play scrimmage to take up a practice, Holgorsen said he'd prefer repeating drills and skills every day and occasionally slip in a scrimmage situation. That way, WVU works on specific ideas, like inside running and blocking, pass rushing, route running or special teams and then later stresses the players by going live and with consequences.
"There's going to be a winner and a loser," Holgorsen said. "I'm not a fan of make-believe situations where you just put the ball on the ground and give them a specific thing to work on without an outcome. We try to emulate things as much as we can, which means just putting the ball down and playing football. It's all part of the process of taking reps and getting it on film."
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DILLON'S BIG hit wasn't the only part of a big day. The 6 foot, 1 inch, 200-pound Dillon, from Apopka, Fla., intercepted a pair of passes when the defense went against the offense.
"He's going to play," Holgorsen said. "His job is to try and push for a starting job."
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LINEBACKER JEWONE Snow and cornerback Brodrick Jenkins missed practice. Holgorsen provided no information on either. Snow has been out since at least Monday.
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HOLGORSEN SIGNED a six-year contract Wednesday that could be worth up to $20.5 million. The celebration afterward was muted.
"Watched a bunch of film all night," he said. "We stayed here past 11 o'clock, had some fine dining in the back, went to the film room and sat there trying to get better."
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HOLGORSEN HAD no news on freshman running back Roshard Burney. Of the four freshmen who didn't report before the start of camp last week, only Burney's situation was unresolved. He was waiting on an outcome from the NCAA.
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THE MOUNTAINEERS have their second day of two-a-days today. The coaching staff will put together a depth chart some time afterward, but Holgorsen cautioned against putting too much value in it.
"It's not going to resemble what the first depth chart was," he said. "We're still trying to plug people into what we ask them to do."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.