That's not to say, of course, that Crook doesn't value toughness or physical play. Those qualities are inherent for any line coach, especially one that played the position himself. However, during West Virginia's spring practices, a great deal of attention has been placed on getting hands in the right position on the opponent's body, and in stepping the right way. While those things might not appear to be as important as simply blasting into an opponent, Crook notes that they are the building blocks of success.
"I think when you get your hands in the correct place it gets your body in the correct place, and it gives you the ability to get underneath a defender with your pads and allows you to strain through them," he said of the critical first stages of a block. "It lets you use your upper body as a lever -- the way it's meant to be used in football. If you do that it can mean the difference between just standing in front of somebody and actually creating movement on them."
The details are many. For example, linemen are coached to hit not just an opponent, but to target a certain area, depending on the type of play called and the blocking assignment installed. Hands might be targeted to the right side of the chest, for example. Footwork is just as important. Starting out with the correct foot, and keeping steps within the frame of the body to maintain balance, are just a couple of keys that are being emphasized.
"You never get happy with where you are from a fundamental standpoint, so we'll come out this last week and really focus on technique," Crook emphasized. "We want to see people stepping the way that we want to see on a consistent basis, not just here and there."
West Virginia's current "starters" on the offensive line have progressed well so far this spring, and the improvement has shown in some of the open practices to date. Crook believes that all five of those players are showing the drive that it takes to continue to improve, even if they do secure a starting job.
"I would say right now the people that improved the most are [Tyler Orlosky and Adam Pankey]. They have done a great job of improving their technique and they way they play, and really, that started for Tyler last fall. Marquis Lucas is doing a great job too, out at right tackle. He's playing hard and playing physical."
"I'd say the important word there is 'potential'," Crook said, lest he indicate that he's satisfied with anyone as a finished product. "Everyone has to push themselves, but the good thing with them is that they are hungry for success. If your goal is just to be a starter, and you get that, then what else is there to motivate you? You have to be motivated to be great. They have that, and they are continuing to go the right way."
While Crook, like most coaches, is always careful with praise, it's clear that he likes what he has seen so far from his linemen. The potential starters, along with many of the backup candidates, have been exhibiting the desire to improve. They also know what they need to work on -- a process facilitated by another key factor in Crook's coaching philosophy.
"Really, what we have seen the last few practices is that guys are battling. They are excited and flying around. That's what we want to see," he noted. "One of the most critical things you can do with them is communicate with them and let them know where they are and what they need to work on, and the communication has been very good."