When West Virginia
's players convene for on-the-field workouts during the summer, they will do so without benefit of coaching supervision. NCAA rules prohibit the coaching staff from working with, or even watching, players as they throw, catch and run with their teammates.
Naturally, each coach has things they want their players to work on during those sessions. While quarterbacks and receivers get the bulk of attention and interest, the players covering them also are refining their skills for the coming season. And although he's not allowed near those sessions, defensive backs coach Tony Gibson has several items that he sees as priorities for the cornerbacks and safeties to pay attention to during the summer.
"What they have to learn is the ins and outs of the game," Gibson explained. "For example, if the receiver is running a post route, they need to learn where the stem [the break] in the route is. The have to learn when to break on the football. The have to learn when the quarterback will be throwing the ball on each type of route.
"They will also do a lot of footwork drills, and a lot of ball drills. I like for them to work on their man-to-man technique too. The summer is a good time for them to do a lot of work one-on-one, especially tight, press man coverage. Those are the kinds of things they can do on their own."
From this description, it's plain to see that players aren't just on the field running around, and that the work doesn't just consist of running pass patterns and going for spectacular interceptions. However, the fact that there aren't a lot of eyes taking in each snap is a good one, at least in Gibson's view.
"The scoreboard's not on, and the coaches aren't out there, so it's a chance for them to work without a lot of pressure," the West Virginia native noted. "I think man to man is one of the hardest things to get better at. It's just so hard to get all the techniques down. They can use all the work they can get."
Of course, without coaching and evaluation comes the potential for bad habits. That is a concern for Gibson and his colleagues on the Mountaineer staff, but he believes that any bad habits his players pick up can be quickly ironed out when the coaches reconvene the team in early August.
"When nobody's watching or it's not being filmed, they're going to fall into some bad habits and do things that are comfortable for them, without a doubt. Their stance might get a little sloppy, or they're going to be a little too high in their backpedal. They do that because it's easier. But, those are things we can correct pretty quickly.
"They do work hard, and they like to be there, or they'd just go home for the summer," Gibson continued, as he explained his belief that the good of summer workouts far outweighs any possible negative effects. "I'm happy so many guys are staying. They will be running and throwing the ball around, and that's good." (The coaching staff expects more than 100 players to be in Morgantown for the second summer session.)
With the coaches out of the immediate picture, leadership of summer drills falls to the players, especially senior leaders. While other positions and groups have established leaders returning to take charge, Gibson doesn't have a Rasheed Marshall, Tim Brown or Adam Lehnortt to head up the cornerbacks and free safeties. However, he does feel he has players ready to jump in and assume those responsibilities.
"Jahmile Addae is a leader in the way he plays and the way he does things on and off the field. The kids really look up to him," Gibson said of his starting free safety. "Adam Jones gets respect from all of his teammates because he is a good player, and he is a good leader, and has been working really hard. Anthony Mims is more of a quiet guy, but he is the type that goes out and works and gets it done. I think those are the guys that will be our leaders during the summer."
With more emphasis being placed on offseason football workouts, players are expected to do far more on their own than ever before. In addition to the obvious benefits of additional work, there are also some pitfalls that must be avoided.