“We’ve healed up,” Stewart said on a conference call Monday afternoon. “We’ve gotten some guys healthy -- or healthier, I should say.”
Stewart seemed confident that running back Noel Devine would be sufficiently healed from the bone bruise he sustained to a toe in a 20-14 loss at LSU on Sept. 25. The senior did practice last week, but was somewhat limited by the injury.
“He bounced around a little bit in practice, but he didn’t do as much as he wanted to do or as much as we wanted him to do,” said Stewart. “Hopefully tomorrow and Wednesday, he’ll get back on track. But it’s a bone bruise ... it’s not like muscle or flesh, so it will be a little bit slower [to heal], probably, than normal. But I really anticipate him, in all fairness, being able to play Saturday and play a lot.”
Devine has put in work to make that a reality, coming in for three treatment sessions with trainers on Monday alone by the time Stewart spoke with the media at about 3:00 p.m. local time.
“He came in early this morning,” said West Virginia’s third-year head coach. “Then, after class, he came back. Then, after lunch, he came back again. He wants to get healthy as much as the next guy.”
Stewart also indicated he expects tight end Tyler Urban, who has missed action in recent weeks due to a knee injury, to be able to play against UNLV on Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Urban, a junior, participated fully in a Sunday practice with the Mountaineers.
“Tyler Urban was in there. He was whacking around,” Stewart said. “He was hitting people. He was running routes. He was moving on the knee. He will play Saturday and he should be ready to go. From what I could tell, he’s chomping at the bit.”
The prognosis for defensive end Julian Miller also seems to have improved.
Miller, who played against LSU but was limited to only pass rushing situations while dealing with severe muscle tightness in his back, has continued to work in the team’s Swimex rehabilitation pool this week and has reaped the benefits.
“He’s not hurting near as bad as he once was,” Stewart said of Miller. “He did play at LSU, and we expect to get more play out of him this week. I would anticipate and hope he will be in a starting role, but I can’t tell you that right now because I don’t truly know.
“We’re going to have to see how he does. But he’s going to be a whole lot better this week than he was last week. That’s for sure.”
After undergoing arthroscopic surgery on one of his knees two weeks ago, offensive lineman Josh Jenkins should be “medically cleared” to play by the time Saturday rolls around, according to Stewart.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean the junior from Parkersburg will be on the field against UNLV.
“He’s probably going to be ready to, but my problem is this: we have a conference game five days after Saturday,” Stewart said, referring to the Thursday night home clash with South Florida that comes up quickly after the UNLV game. “I just don’t know what’s right [to do]. That will be a doctor’s call. I will have input in it, certainly, as I should. Josh will have input in it, as he should. But I do believe he will be medically cleared by Saturday.
“I will know more about that by Thursday, when we watch him in practice tomorrow and Wednesday and Thursday. He was in pads yesterday and running, but he wasn’t hitting. That being said, we just need to be smart with that as well.”
If Devine were somehow limited by his injury, Stewart indicated a bit more comfort with the depth at running back than he may have had two weeks ago. That’s because freshman Trey Johnson and sophomore Shawne Alston impressed their head coach in practices last week.
“Trey Johnson practiced very well, as did Shawne Alston,” Stewart said. “Shawne Alston really had some fresh legs yesterday and his knee looks to be a lot better. To be very honest, with Trey Johnson, with Shawne Alston, with [fullback] Ryan Clarke ... I think we have more than enough to get through.”
While much has been made of a possible move of either slot receiver Jock Sanders or wideout Tavon Austin into the backfield in case of further issues for Devine, Stewart said that was not likely to happen.
“But we can always use that motion and get Tavon and Jock in the backfield to run a little bit of plays,” Stewart said. “But to just wholesale start Jock or Tavon? We’re not ready to do that yet.”
The practice schedule last week was a bit more intense than usual for mid-season, as Stewart had his players in full pads twice.
The “victory” (or “Oklahoma”) drill was on the agenda, and no less than three periods of every practice were devoted to “competitive” drills. (offensive line against defensive line, cornerbacks against receivers, etc.)
Why do those things on a week off, when even “healthy” players could surely use a chance to recuperate from the many bumps and bruises of the first few weeks of football?
“We’re only a third of the way through the season ... we’ve still got a lot football to play, and we can get a lot better,” Stewart said.
The head coach briefly lamented the fact that WVU’s first bye week of the season came before the last non-conference game of the season, and that his team would face a short turnaround before starting Big East play against the Bulls on the Thursday following this weekend’s clash with UNLV.
But more than anything, Stewart said his players were simply ready to get back on the football field to get the memory of the LSU loss out of their heads.
“We need to get a game under our belts,” he said. “It seems like forever since we played a game. Usually when we have an open date, we play on a Thursday or Friday [afterwards], so this Saturday-to-Saturday is kind of tough.”
“It would have been nice to have that week off before you play your first conference game, but that’s not a big deal. It really isn’t. We just need to play. After a loss, my golly, it just seems like an eternity. The fans think it’s tough for them. Let me tell you, it’s really tough for the staff and these players. They want to get back out there in the arena and make amends, so to speak. We want to get out there and play.”