MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - After a couple weeks of spring drills, Ron Crook is beginning to get comfortable in his new surroundings. West Virginia's third offensive line coach in the last four years was only on the job a few weeks before jumping into practice, so he had a lot of work to do familiarizing himself not only with the staff and the coaching philosophies, but also the players he's coaching. Of course, getting comfortable being in West Virginia was no big deal. He grew up in Parkersburg, played in college at West Liberty and coached in the West Virginia Conference. Being able to come home played a big part in Crook's decision to take the job after two years at Stanford, but more than that was the chance to be a part of the WVU program. "I think [coming home] played a big part in it, but more from a standpoint of growing up in this state you know how important Mountaineer football is to the people of this state,'' said Crook, who spent the eight years before his time with Stanford at Harvard. "I've been gone several years now, so it wasn't really so much coming home, it was more about coming to a place that I know football is important to the people of this state, the people in this university. That was a big thing that I wanted to be a part of.'' Crook never was able to be a part of the WVU program before now, but he still always felt it was a part of him. "I think as a kid growing up in this state, everything you do revolves around Mountaineer football. At least it was that way for me,'' Crook said. "And it wasn't just football. In my home growing up, if there was a West Virginia event on TV, it was on our TV. "I think you're always following it. When you're brought up that way, you don't lose it. I've always been a West Virginia fan.''
The first thing that comes to mind when most people think about cornerbacks is skill and athleticism.
But what WVU cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell wants to see is a workaholic mindset.
"When you look at your team and say, 'How would you like the makeup to be,' the first thing you would say is you want a bunch of blue-collar workers that are fearless,'' Mitchell said. "No matter what the situation is, they're going to be diligent in how they prepare each week and for each Saturday. And what they put on tape is what people are going to know them for.''
What West Virginia's cornerbacks were known for last season was not good. The Mountaineers finished among the worst teams in the country in pass defense and five different players started at the two corner spots in an attempt to find success.
Four of those corners are back this season, along with several younger players. Mitchell wants them working not just on their individual abilities, but also in working within a defensive structure that keeps opposing offenses guessing.
He knows it's going to take a lot of work.
"They're young men who need to grow and develop,'' Mitchell said. "We're going to take it step by step. It's a process.'' nn
One of the most amusing drills of practice each day is when quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson and Holgorsen put the quarterbacks in the middle of three tall tackling dummies and have them weave in and out while pushing the dummies into each other. The two coaches also take hand-held pads and swing at the quarterbacks, all of it designed to get them used to being in traffic.
Junior quarterback Paul Millard admits that those are about the only hits the quarterbacks take. Defensive players aren't allowed to hit them during practice.
"Yeah, that's probably the hardest hit I'm going to take this spring,'' Millard said. "I wanted to give [Holgorsen] the ball one time and take a whack at him.'' nn BRIEFLY: West Virginia will practice again Thursday and Saturday this week, then three days each of the next two weeks, including the Gold-Blue Game on April 20. Holgorsen also has an extra day to work in somewhere after calling off the last practice prior to last week's spring break.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.