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Short-handed defense regains intensity at Greenbrier scrimmage

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — From the very first scrimmage snap, when blitzing safety Karl Joseph dropped Rushel Shell for no gain, there was heightened intensity.

Shell climbed up and flipped the ball off Joseph’s face mask. Joseph shoved Shell. Guard Adam Pankey shoved Joseph. Spur safety K.J. Dillon shoved Pankey. Shelton Gibson pushed Joseph, and Joseph retaliated with a jab to the receiver’s helmet.

After a deep breath, it was time for play No. 2.

“We told them to be very, uh, encouraged,” said safeties coach Joe DeForest of West Virginia’s defense, which largely carried Saturday’s 100-play practice at the Greenbrier Resort.

From the feistiness of the opening play to Dravon Henry robbing Skyler Howard for a pick-six on the second snap, the defense made its mark despite seven players on the two-deep being sidelined or limited.

Missing entirely were Will linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, backup Mike linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton, defensive end Noble Nwachukwu, reserve safety Daejuan Fuderburk and cornerback Daryl Worley (out all spring with shoulder surgery). Cornerback Terrell Chestnut (back tightness) and reserve defensive lineman Christian Brown sat out portions of the scrimmage.

“It’s to the point now where we have to start getting some continuity with our guys and getting them healthy,” said defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. “We had a kid (Adid Charles) playing with the twos that we kept out of walk-on tryout a couple weeks ago.”

The offense managed a few highlights: Donte Thomas-Williams ripping off a 60-yard touchdown on third-and-1 and Howard hitting Jordan Thompson behind the secondary for a 55-yard score.

“We’re in a 2-minute situation, with 50 seconds left in the half and our guys blew a coverage,” Gibson said. “They need to be aware and understand what situation we’re in.”

Howard also hit Thompson on a short touchdown, while William Crest hooked up with Ricky Rogers on a 45-yard score and Devonte Mathis from 30 yards.

More injuries: Redshirt freshman Yodny Cajuste (broken finger) was replaced at starting left tackle by Russell Haughton-James and running back Wendell Smallwood sported what looked to be a cast on his right hand.

Coach Dana Holgorsen likened the injuries to a typical spring.

“It ain’t no different here than it is anywhere,” he said. “There’s been no serious injuries, no surgeries or any of that stuff. We’ve got nicks and bruises. Nothing has happened to where we’re concerned about next year.”

Fans on hand: Greenbrier officials announced more than 3,000 tickets were sold to Saturday’s practice.

“We love every chance we have to come put on for the fans,” said linebacker Edward Muldrow. “Just love the chance to play this game and get better.”

As with 2014’s spring trips to Wheeling and Charleston, and last month’s practice at Shepherdstown, the visit to the Greenbrier offered some intangible benefits.

“It gets us out of our comfort zone,” Howard said. “It’s like going on a road game. We’ve never been here so we need to adapt—new locker room, different scenery, different meeting rooms.”

Greenbrier’s green grass: Having long lamented the lack of practice fields on campus, Holgorsen joked that he was unsure how to schedule drills given all the accommodations of the $30-million Saints training facility.

“The thing that’s so awesome is all that space out there,” he said. “Two full fields for practice—boy, that’s an ingenious idea.”

West Virginia practiced Friday and Saturday at the Greenbrier, which Holgorsen called “a world-class resort and a pretty dadgum good football facility as well.”

Rose reinstated: Senior nose guard Kyle Rose returned from last week’s suspension for an arrest at a Morgantown bar.

“He’s paid his dues and learned a valuable lesson,” Holgorsen said.

In the early morning hours of April 5, Rose was charged with public intoxication, disorderly conduct, obstructing an officer and battery on an officer— all misdemeanors. He faces a May 13 court appearance.

Quote of the day: Holgorsen said a few select coaches roomed at the resort while the team stayed at the Quality Inn in Lewisburg.

“We can’t afford the Greenbrier—it’s too expensive,” he said.

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