MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In order for practice to make perfect, West Virginia must first perfect its practice.
The Mountaineers wore pads for the first time this spring on Saturday morning, taking to the field at Milan Puskar Stadium. The results were not quite what Neal Brown was hoping for as far too many bodies hit the ground on contact, slowing the overall tempo.
“It was sloppy, but it was to be expected. It was the first time we had anyone on the team have pads on since the bowl game,” Brown said. “Our practice habits have to be better; we’re on the ground too much. We have to learn to practice, stay off the ground.”
On top of that, Brown felt the team was sluggish after showing plenty of pep in its first two practices. He wasn’t sure if it was due to being a morning practice or because it was in the stadium rather than the practice facility, but he does know everyone involved needs to get better.
“Today wasn’t good enough as a whole,” Brown said. “A lot of times, even with veteran teams, the first day you put them in pads, especially in the spring, sometimes it is sloppy, so it takes a little bit getting used to. I’m not totally surprised, but we have to be better.”
Veteran players like defensive lineman Reese Donahue and offensive tackle Colton McKivitz noted that it’s difficult to be crisp at this stage of spring practice.
Donahue said there were multiple reasons for the sloppiness.
“The primary thing is it’s the first day in pads. People are itching to get out there and crack some heads. People are going to be out of control,” Donahue said. “We’re [also] learning defenses and offenses. So you haven’t yet developed that routine of what you’re doing. There’s two instances automatically.
“Then, it’s family day and we’ve got media here. Everybody’s a little hyped up.”
The ability to stay upright is particularly challenging in the trenches. But that’s also where it is the most important since a body on the ground increases the risk of a teammate getting an ankle rolled or a knee bent.
“It’s tough, obviously, with guys in the trenches,” McKivitz said. “We’re obviously going to be going full-go. Skill players are going to have a hard time not teeing off on a guy or not tackling a guy, having that urge to tackle them. The biggest thing is being athletic and staying inside your shoulders with your feet.”
Though the players had perfectly valid reasons for not being sharp, they also know that their head coach is right.
“Coach Brown knows it’s the first day [in pads]. I’m sure he knew this was going to happen going into it,” Donahue said. “He’s not stupid. He’s a very intelligent coach. But ultimately, this is one of those things we want to get better at every single day.
“Maybe we had 50 people on the ground today. We get 20 next time. We get 10 the next time. Then we get one or two a practice. That’s when we’ll really be dialing it in, and that’s when you’ll notice a lot of change.”