MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia entered the second week of preseason practice Thursday with a lighter workout that didn’t feature full pads or heavy hitting. The Mountaineers had gone full-contact with full pads the previous three days.
WVU coach Dana Holgorsen was still able to put his eyes on specific things he has to see as he moves the team closer to the end of camp a week from Saturday.
“Guys are starting to get really sore,” he said. “That’s just camp. You have to go through it. We’re trying to identify guys who can maintain mental toughness when they’re tired and mental toughness when they’re sore, when they’re hurting and when it’s hot. That’s an evaluation process that we are in the middle of, and it will continue for the next week-and-a-half to start identifying depth charts, who we can count on and who are the main guys.”
This is a trying time every year. There’s always a distinct excitement when the waiting ends and camps begins. Once camp is over, the Mountaineers will spend pretty much the entire next two weeks preparing for Alabama and the season-opening Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. The arrival of different practices and the prospect of an approaching game, let alone one as big as the one in the Georgia Dome on Aug. 30, always changes the mood of the players and the practices.
In between is this stretch of practices that are tricky to navigate, though critical to endure.
“My favorite part of the day is when we got out there at 4:30 p.m., when it’s typically the hottest,” Holgorsen said. “We go out there when they’ve been inside for three hours, and it’s hot. They’re sore. Who can rev the engines up and get going? That’s what I look forward to every day. Who can get going and do it?”
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THE MOUNTAINEERS have work to do to assemble depth charts. They have a quarterback, five offensive linemen and three receivers seemingly locked into starting spots. They have six running backs and a need to establish an order and make decisions about playing time, roles and, in the case of freshman Dontae Thomas-Williams, a redshirt. Holgorsen said WVU needs three reserve linemen and two reserve wide receivers who can join Jordan Thompson in backup roles.
Holgorsen said the junior inside receiver, who’s outside the season before, has never been better at WVU.
“I feel silly saying that since he’s been Mr. Camp and Mr. Spring guy,” Holgorsen said. “He is playing at a different level than he has. He’s been great.”
Defensively, WVU is sorting out options at free safety and among the linebacker and defensive end positions. While fortunate to be so deep at linebacker and to be deeper at defensive end, the coaches and players there need more time to set an order.
“It’s probably a little trickier because we have more bodies, more guys who we’re able to identify who does what right and who doesn’t,” Holgorsen said. “It’s a constant evaluation. To set a depth chart doesn’t mean anything is set in stone for the rest of the year, as we all know. We have harped a lot on building depth, which we are.”
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ONE PLAYER SETTLING in of late who could make use of this last stretch of camp is linebacker Edward Muldrow. The junior college transfer, who was with WVU in the spring after making 56 tackles and sacking the quarterback 41/2 times in his second season at Mississippi’s Copiah-Lincoln Community College, is pushing junior Isaiah Bruce at the strong side linebacker position.
“He’s twitchy, he’s fast, he’s physical and he’s motivated, but he’s out of control,” Holgorsen said. “He’s learning what to do at times. He’s a prime example of when things get hard — because of fatigue, because of soreness or because of emotion — he’s got to be able to control all of that stuff.
Muldrow practiced with the first-team defense Wednesday and did some things well, but “blew some gaskets, too,” Holgorsen said.
“It’s a constant process of continuing to teach him what to do, not only when things are good,” he said. “Anyone can run fast and hit hard when things are good, but if things are not so good, you have to be able to be under control both mentally and physically.”
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WHAT SEEMED LIKE the silliest story line so far suddenly seems somewhat serious. Holgorsen did not rule out the possibility freshman quarterback William Crest will returns punts. Crest, who’s impressed Holgorsen enough that Holgorsen is considering taking a package of plays tailored to Crest’s strengths into the season, has fielded and returned punts throughout camp.
“He used to do it in high school just to kind of stay in shape,” Holgorsen said. “The first practice, I looked down there and he was catching punts. I was watching him, and I’ll be darned if it didn’t look pretty good. We need a punt returner so let’s see what you can do. He likes doing it, and so I said go do it.
“Would it be an option if he is the best one? Absolutely. If he was our starting, every-down quarterback, that’d be pretty silly.”
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.