No doubts about WVU kicking jobs
MORGANTOWN — By the end of West Virginia’s spring football drills, there were probably more questions than answers.
On offense, absolutely nothing was done to clear up the competition at quarterback, primarily because pretty much half the contenders — injured Clint Trickett and yet-to-arrive freshman William Crest — weren’t even involved. There are still more running backs and receivers than positions they can fill, which is certainly not a bad thing, but who ends up playing is still a mystery.
On defense, things are pretty much the same — a lot of players still in contention for playing time, especially behind the line. There is a logjam at linebacker, and on the back end, aside from cornerback Daryl Worley and safety Karl Joseph, pretty much no one has a lock on positions. Again, neither of those problems is a bad one to have, but clarity in regard to personnel just isn’t there.
But then there are the specialists. Mark those down in ink and forget about them. Come the end of August and the beginning of the season, the possibilities are remote that anyone other than Josh Lambert and Nick O’Toole will be placekicking and punting, respectively.
“Our kicking game,’’ said coach Dana Holgorsen, “has been great.’’
In Saturday’s spring-ending God-Blue scrimmage, O’Toole and Mike Molinari split the six punts and each averaged around 45-47 yards. O’Toole handled the job all last season and figures to do so again in the fall while Molinari concentrates on kickoffs and holding for placements.
Long-snapper John DePalma is also back and is doing exactly the type of anonymous job that the best long-snappers do — failing to call attention to himself.
“You forget he’s even here,’’ Holgorsen said. “He never does anything but snap the ball exactly where you want it to be.’’
Perhaps the most high-profile of the positions, however, is Lambert’s. That’s the only position of the three where kicks result directly in points. And over the course of the spring, Lambert has been, as Holgorsen said, “Mr. Consistency.’’
He’s also become Mr. Range. The third of his three field goals Saturday (in as many attempts) was from 53 yards and had plenty of room to spare when it went over the crossbar.
“During pregame today I hit a 60-yarder,’’ Lambert said. “From that point [and longer] it’s hit or miss, but given the right conditions, I can hit 60.’’
One of the things that Lambert attributes to his improvement and that of the other specialists, as well, is something not generally associated with football training.
They’ve all gotten into yoga.
“Mike Joseph recommended yoga one day,’’ Lambert said of the program’s director of strength and conditioning. “They have a TV in the weight room that they put it on and we all just go to town.
“I’ve gotten a lot stronger [working with more traditional methods] and the yoga helped a lot. It’s made me more flexible.’’
A year ago, as a redshirt freshman, Lambert made his WVU debut by kicking 17 field goals in 23 attempts. Four of his six misses were kicks of 50 or more yards. He was 16 of 18 inside that distance and just 1 of 5 outside, making a 50-yarder at Kansas State and missing from 50, 51, 53 and 55 yards (as well as 34 and 42).
Four of his six misses came in the first five games of the season. He went 11 of 13 in the final seven games and at one point had a streak of 10 straight makes over six games.
In other words, he got better as the year went on and he gained some confidence, and now he has developed even more.
“I guess nerve-wise, I don’t get nervous anymore,’’ Lambert said.
As for the yoga, well, say what you will. Sure, it’s not a traditional football training tool, but if it works, why not?
“At first the other players asked what we were doing I guess,’’ Lambert said. “But they can’t say anything now as long as we perform well.’’
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.