West Virginia: Smith puts best foot forward in first session
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith spent a good portion of a chilly Wednesday morning with his hands tucked into a warm pouch that hugged his waist.
But it was his feet that concerned most Mountaineer fans.
Smith was in action at Mountaineer Field, leading West Virginia in its first spring football practice less than three months after surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot.
He was not wearing any visible protection over his left foot and took part in running and throwing drills. Coach Bill Stewart said Smith moved well in practice.
"I saw him burst off on a couple play fakes there, to both his left and his right," Stewart said. "I was kind of telling him 'Whoa, a little bit.' But he came out of there really well on a play fake.
"[When] the quarterback hands off, they can fake the throw, they can fake the bootleg or they can burst off like they're running the ball in the option. He did all three things today, and I thought he did a really good job."
Smith played the entire 2010 season with the fracture. Despite the injury, he performed well, throwing 24 touchdown passes -- the second-highest season total in West Virginia history -- in his first full season as starting quarterback.
He set the school sophomore passing mark, throwing for 2,763 yards last season, and completed 64.8 percent of his passes.
West Virginia disclosed Smith's injury shortly after the Mountaineers lost to North Carolina State Dec. 28 in the Champs Sports Bowl. He sat out spring practice before last season because of a stress fracture to the same foot.
Smith's health is a good sign for the Mountaineers, who will spend a lot of time in spring practice installing a different offense under new coordinator Dana Holgorsen, who will succeed Stewart as head coach at the conclusion of the 2011 season.
Holgorsen's system features an up-tempo spread offense that uses multiple wide receivers to spread the defense over the field.
Smith and the rest of West Virginia's offense impressed the coaches with knowledge and execution of some of the schemes.
"As far as the quarterback communication, it was probably a little bit better than I expected," receivers coach Shannon Dawson said.
"These kids are pretty sharp, football-wise."
While the players did not receive much on-field criticism, Dawson said that does not mean they did not need help.
Dawson, a former offensive coordinator at Stephen F. Austin who joined the Mountaineers' staff this offseason, said the key to the spring is to try to run as many plays as possible in practice and do most of the coaching in film sessions.
"There's going to be a lot of mistakes," he said. "You can't really get a good impression by watching practice. When you watch film, there are going to be a lot of mental mistakes that happen, no doubt about it."
Stewart agreed that there were some mistakes, but was impressed with the offense's early showing.
"There weren't nearly the missed assignments that I thought," he said.
But Stewart cautioned that, typically, there is little to glean from the first day of practice.
"Day one -- shorts and jerseys -- not much," he said. "I just like our enthusiasm. I like the way they jelled."
First Published March 31, 2011 12:00 am