With five practices in the books, there was a hint of excitement in the voice of Dana Holgorsen at his press conference on Monday.
And while the energy level his team has been practicing at so far this camp could easily have been a primary cause for this giddiness, it was quickly made apparent that there was another hard-hitting reason - full pads.
On Monday, West Virginia coaches will be able to see their players on the field in full pads for the first time this season. With this, hitting, tackling, and full-contact drills are now open season for the Mountaineers, allowing the coaching staff to get an even better read at the progress of the team thus far.
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"We'll be able to do a lot of hitting," Holgorsen said referring to today's practice. "We'll do team drills that involve a little bit of tackling for the first time. Pretty fired up to watch that."
One of the drills Holgorsen is most excited to see, particularly to help shake off the rust from this offseason, is the Oklahoma drill. The coach has been impressed with the previous two practices for the Mountaineers from an energy standpoint, with a couple fights showcasing the sessions. Today, those frustrations and that energy can be expelled in a controlled environment on the field.
"We'll do that good old Oklahoma drill today that everyone loves to watch," Holgorsen said. "Kids get fired up about it being a live contract drill. There was a lot of energy out there (Saturday) and a few fights, which is always fun to watch. But the guys are in a good spot."
Having the ability to run full-contact drills also means the coaching staff will have a better ability to analyze player development. Particularly on defense, where certain positions are still up for grabs in what is widely a four-deep depth chart at nearly every position.
But so far in fall camp, the head coach is extremely pleased with the early returns from the defensive side of the ball. A fact he attributes in part to simplified packages and practices in camp.
"I thought we did too much stuff last year," he said. "There are a lot of different people out there, a lot of different looks. I think we've simplified our fronts and coverages a little bit from what we've done in the past couple years, which I thought was important. But after four days they're doing a lot of good stuff."
Holgorsen also has an extraordinary level of depth of defense compared to the previous year in his mind. Something that the coach believes West Virginia has not seen in the past two seasons.
"All positions are deeper," Holgorsen said. "We're not plugging true freshman in the two-deep. I guess there are two true freshman in two-deep, that's Dravon Henry and William Crest, who's taking some second-team reps. Whether they end up there or not, that's just night and day compared to the past. Not just last year, but the year before."
Of the two true freshman taking second team reps, Holgorsen continued to express great enthusiasm for the potential of Crest. However, the coach maintains that he is a long way from making a decision on the freshman's redshirt status for the upcoming season.
"I don't know how he's going to continue to progress," Holgorsen explained. He's talented, he understands that he's going to get reps, he's going to make mistakes, and it's all about learning from those mistakes. Nobody knows where he can get in the next month."
Currently, Crest is taking a bulk of reps from Paul Millard, because the coaching staff is comfortable with Millard's knowledge of the system at this point. Still, the freshman quarterback is not being thrown completely into the fire just yet.
"The plays that we call when William's out there are not the same plays we call when Clint's out there," Holgorsen said. "That's a little bit too technical for him right now. We're just running basic stuff with him."
Holgorsen is also focus on the basics for the entire offense it seems this camp. Unlike last season, the coaching staff is keyed in on narrowing the offensive packages "to get real good at the things we're good at."
But while Holgorsen does not yet know what the team's identity will be this fall, he is pleased with the path his team has taken as they now prepare to don pads Monday for the first time this fall.
"The guys are in a good spot," Holgorsen said. "They're excited about where they're at and we're really looking forward to us getting out there and being able to do some things."
* Coach Holgorsen was extremely impressed with the efforts of walk-on safety Dayron Wilson filling in for the injured K.J. Dillon. Wilson stole the show on defense Saturday, including a couple tackles-for-loss during his time on the field. Holgorsen awarded Wilson with a scholarship immediately after practice.
* Daryl Worley, Dravon Henry, Shelton Gibson, and Rushel Shell have all been taking reps at kick returner this fall, with Mario Alford and Jordan Thompson continuing to hold down the position on the punt team.
* Currently, there is no update on the statuses of JUCO players Jaylon Myers and Justin Scott or freshmen Jacob McCrary and Donte Angus. All four players have yet to be cleared to join the squad.
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