MORGANTOWN -- West Virginia's football team begins its final week of spring drills today with an afternoon practice session, and coach Rich Rodriguez hopes to expand the team's passing game and add more to the base of the 33-stack defense.
Injuries and youth have been a major problem in trying to do so.
"We wanted to work on our downfield passing game and wide receiver screens (last week), but we haven't had the people we need out there to do it," Rodriguez said. "We lost Miquelle Henderson to an injury early in Thursday's practice, and Aaron Neal is just now getting over an ankle injury and we weren't able to do much with him.
"Then Travis Garvin had to leave because of a problem at home. So it's been tough trying to get this in, and it's something we really need to work on."
Defensively, with several young players working on the front line, many are still trying to grasp the base part of the 33-stack.
"The progress has been slow because we have so many young guys out there right now," Rodriguez said. "I think we were too optimistic in thinking we could get it all installed -- coaches usually are you know.
"But we'd rather bring them along slow than to overload them and have them completely confused."
Three redshirt freshmen, a true freshman and a converted tight end are among the top backups right now along the defensive front.
n SCOTT AT WIDEOUT: Redshirt freshman John Scott was recruited as a tailback/defensive back out of high school last year.
But with WVU's ever-thinning receiving corps, he's being tried at slot receiver.
After missing scrimmage play earlier in the spring due to a bothersome hamstring, Scott got his first taste of game-like action last Thursday and fared well.
"We think John Scott will be an outstanding special teams player," Rodriguez said. "If he can learn the slot position, he could end up playing a lot of football for us this fall."
n LIKES THE SURFACE: Last summer, AstroPlay was installed as the new playing surface at Mountaineer Field. Rodriguez believes it has more than lived up to its producer's claims.
"The rubber in it has settled in, and it's the best now since I've been here," Rodriguez said. "The players really like it and it's probably saved us numerous times from a guy getting a serious injury.
"I'm sure we'd have plenty more ankles and knees if we still had the old surface."
n THE END IS NEAR: After today's session, just one more practice is scheduled -- that set for Wednesday. The team will then get two days off before Saturday's annual Gold-Blue game.
Admission for the event is $5 with the benefits going to the WVU Children's Hospital.
Sports writer Greg Talkington can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org