WVU holds spring drills in Charleston

CHARLESTON – West Virginia University head football coach Dana Holgorsen was looking for two things when he elected to take his Mountaineers on the road for Saturday for two of its allotted 15 spring practices.

First, he wanted to give his team a taste of the road during the offseason so that it would be better prepared for the rigors of traveling during the Big 12 season.

Plus, Holgorsen wanted to give fans around the state an opportunity to watch what he and his coaching staff had accomplished since the old gold and blue ended its season with a home overtime loss to Iowa State.

An earlier trip to Wheeling Island Stadium brought out more than 1,000 Mountaineer faithful. Compare that to an open practice at Milan Puskar Stadium last Saturday that failed to produce much of a crowd and little excitement.

That wasn’t the case Saturday at the University of Charleston’s Laidley Field as a crowd estimated at 6,000 to 7,000 sat through 50-degree weather to witness the Mountaineers go through a variety of drills and some 11-on-11 action.

“Sure, we’re excited to be here,” Holgorsen said. “It’s good for us to get out and show people around the state what we’ve been doing for the past several months.”

The show began with special teams action, then proceeded into some light offense-on-offense and defense-on-defense work.

Next came the Oklahoma drill which featured some big hits as well as some nice runs. Then the team spent time in some individual and special teams drills before going live.

As expected, junior defensive back Karl Joseph delivered the first big hit of the day. But, the offense, led by senior quarterback Paul Millard, moved the ball against its first team counterparts on the defense.

The defense didn’t help its cause either when junior K.J. Dillon was flagged for a late hit out-of-bounds that kept alive the offense’s first drive of the day.

Millard looked sharp and University of Pittsburgh transfer running back Rushel Shell gave a glimpse or two of what fans can expect to see out of him this fall. The drive stalled, however, at the 11-yard line, forcing the offense to have to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Josh Lambert.

Next up was highly-touted junior college transfer quarterback Skylar Howard. A first down pass to Dustin Garrison was followed by a missed handoff that resulted in a short gain.

Then, sophomore Wendell Smallwood showed fans why they shouldn’t be so quick to anoint Shell as their savior at running back as the Delaware native ran through the defense for a first down gain. The drive stalled, however, bringing in Fairmont’s Logan Moore to show the audience what he could do.

“We’ve still got a long way to go,” continued Holgorsen. “We’ve had 10 practices, we still have five practices and one of those will be the Blue/Gold game on Saturday.

“We’re hoping to get around 80 plays in today and that many or more on Sunday. With the number of new kids we have on both offense and defense, every play we can get in helps them.”

One player not getting reps this summer is quarterback Clint Trickett. Offseason surgery has sidelined the senior during the spring, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t staying active.

“Paul (Millard) is solid as far as knowing the signals and getting the play to the offense,” Holgorsen explained. “Skylar (Howard) is still looking around at times and that is to be expected with any new player, especially at quarterback.

“But, then there’s Clint over there on the sideline watching and helping when these guys come off of the field. He’s not out there, but he is showing a greater understanding of the offense every day,”

Fans will get one last chance to see the Mountaineers in action when the annual Blue/Gold Scrimmage takes place at Milan Puskar Stadium at 1 p.m. on Saturday. Admission to the game is $10 with part of that going to the West Virginia University Children’s Hospital.