MORGANTOWN — There is a fine line between getting ready to play and staying healthy enough to play during a month of preseason football practice.
“The goal is to get out of camp with enough reps to be able to be in game shape,’’ West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “But to also be healthy and ready to play that first game.’’
In a way, the new NCAA-suggested guidelines on contact during practice would seem to render the issue moot. It has always been pretty much a coach’s decision on how much to hit during the preseason and he had to weigh the amount of contact against the risk of injury.
Now, with the suggestion — which virtually all coaches are following — that contact be limited to 12 practices, there’s not much room for deviation. Coaches can still back off of contact if they feel they are getting too many injuries or taking too many chances, but few are going to give up any of those 12 days.
Fortunately, Holgorsen and most other coaches think that’s about right. With the kind of depth Holgorsen has this year as opposed to the last two, he might go longer in those contact periods.
“You get about 12 opportunities to tackle in three and a half weeks, which is about what we did last year,’’ Holgorsen said. “Because we have a lot more bodies, as opposed to a 30-play live period it may be a 50-play live period.
“This camp is designed to keep these guys healthy and we’ll have a lot of recovery time. We’re not having to put a guy out there and get 50 reps out of him per day in a live situation.’’
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It became almost comical at times last season, or at least the subject of jokes.
So many times when West Virginia’s offense fell behind, the answer was a barrage of deep balls. Few of them connected, of course, but that didn’t stop the Mountaineers from trying.
Part of the problem was that when the quarterbacks had options, the shorter and safer ones were covered, so why not heave the ball deep? Just as significant, though, was that with new quarterbacks and new receivers, there wasn’t much timing there to make the deep throws work.
This year? Clint Trickett is in his second season and with a healthy arm. The receivers are almost all in at least their second year.
“Clint is doing really well at it. [Wide receivers] Mario Alford and Kevin White are light years ahead of where they were last year, technique-wise,’’ Holgorsen said. “We’re able to get real specific on technique because we’re not teaching them what to do all the time. The timing and the continuity between Clint and those guys is light years ahead of where it was last year.
“A lot of it goes back to that. It takes more than just a fast kid to run down field and a quarterback to throw the ball down there. It takes technique and it takes practice. They are much more on the same page than they were at any point last year.’’
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Jewone Snow has not exactly been a bastion of stability and dependability during his career.
A fifth-year senior linebacker now, Snow started seven games at middle linebacker as a redshirt freshman in 2011. But the next year he played just four games before a shoulder injury sidelined him the rest of the season, then last year he was essentially limited to special-teams play. He did manage to block a punt against Texas, but that was probably the highlight of a season in which he seldom played linebacker.
Well, Snow is back for his final go-around, and this time isn’t dressed in the red medical jersey that should have had his name sewn on the back because he wore it so much.
“He’s in the best shape he’s ever been in,’’ Holgorsen said. “He’s not walking around with the red jersey. He’s out there practicing.”
The chances of Snow jumping back into the mix at linebacker have lessened, however. It is arguably the deepest position on the team, and that’s a team with five potential starting running backs. There are 17 linebackers in camp and perhaps 10 of them have a legitimate chance to play. More will contribute on special teams.
That’s where Snow figures to make his impact, too.
“He’s probably our most valuable special-teams player at this point,’’ Holgorsen said. “He’s on six special teams, every one of them.
“He’s a good football player who’s healthy and knows this is his last opportunity to play ball. You take a guy like that — there’s only five fifth-year seniors in our program right now — the higher that number goes, the better football team you’re going to have. You can do a lot of different things and it means a lot to them.’’
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.