In his past two seasons at West Virginia, Coach Dana Holgorsen has the same motto he states ad nauseam when describing the first couple practices of a new season - "it's not real football."
The statement Coach Holgorsen is making refers to the lack of pads during the first couple practices, per NCAA bylaws.
But today, the pads came on, and the sound of them popping resonated throughout all of Milan Puskar Stadium.
In the 30 minute open media session, the Mountaineers worked on the typical special teams routine, with a bit more physicality thrown in the mix thanks to the addition of pads.
The practice started off, as with all sessions, with the team meeting at midfield for pre-practice stretching. The coaches were united on the midfield logo, shouting commands as the players as the squad prepared to begin its third practice of the young spring season.
In the meantime, Coach Shannon Dawson had the quarterback working on simple passing drills in the south endzone. All four signal-callers worked an equal amount on the same drills, with Dawson hammering them on quick release and footwork.
Following the pre-practice conditioning, the squad broke huddle and transitioned into special teams work. The initial focus was on field goals, as kicker Josh Lambert lined up for three-consecutive kicks, splitting the uprights.
After the brief kicking session, the team broke into punt return and blocking drills for the first time this spring. Although the coaches pulled back on the reigns, keeping the players running at 50 percent, the fundamentals of blocking remained the focus.
Coach JaJuan Seider had control of the blockers on one end of the field, working with some of the younger players on hand placement and reading the opposing player as he was rushing downfield.
For punt returns, Andrew Buie and Jordan Thompson handled first team returning duties, with Vernon Davis, Wendell Smallwood and Brodrick Jenkins alternating duties behind the two speedsters. With the players running half-speed it was hard to determine true performance, but the staff appears to be set with Buie and Thompson in the role.
During the special teams work, Coach Eric Slaughter had his defensive linemen attacking the blocking sled on the corner of the field. The coach focused on prepping his linemen to shed off offensive blocks. Although not full of intensity today, Slaughter stressed the fundamentals of speed off the line to his unit.
"We want it QUICK," Slaughter screamed. "Quick on movement and quick on release."
The team then broke up into positional drills at different spots on the field with wide receivers and defensive backs taking the north end of the stadium, running backs and linebacker squaring off at midfield and the offensive line up against the defensive line in the south end.
During the linebackers and running backs work, each unit went blow for blow as the offensive players attempted to successfully prevent the defender from getting through or around them to a dummy.
On the south end however, the energy from both the coaching staff and the players exuded as three wide receivers would line up in front of a pair of defensive backs and attempt to block them to run a screen play. The third receiver would catch the ball and the two defenders attempted to either tackle or blow up the play by getting by their designated blocker.
Although the wide receivers had the advantage early into the drill, after several wins by the defensive backs and drops by the wide receivers, the performance drew the ire of head coach Dana Holgorsen who gave the group a fiery talk referring to how the team failed to perform under adversity last season.
"Just sit there and look at the DB that whipped your (butt)," he said.
The head man then even congratulated senior safety Darwin Cook for blowing up the next drill.
Players in red continued to be sophomore wide receiver Dante Campbell, sophomore cornerback Terrell Chestnut while offensive lineman Brandon Jackson was once again spotted in a gray sweat suit riding the exercise bike.
Linebackers Doug Rigg and Jewone Snow sported green jerseys again, but participated in the drills.
Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate Academy athlete Daejuan Funderburk was in attendance and during the session wide receivers coach Lonnie Galloway shouted to the prospect and welcomed him for being in attendance.