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Nehlen seeks depth during two-a-days

by Dan Shrensky

CORRESPONDENT

MORGANTOWN -- West Virginia University is heading down the home stretch in its preseason football practices, and while some positions are clearly a one-horse race, others will be settled by a nose.

"We have a lot of kids that are still battling in there," coach Don Nehlen said Monday after his team's most recent practice in pads. "From a coaching standpoint, we hope to find two guys at each position so that we can play two guys at each position. The season's too long and the schedule's too tough to go with one guy."

Two-a-day drills conclude Saturday. The Mountaineers open the season Sept. 2 at home against Boston College.

Nehlen said the position battles still too close to call are along the offensive line. At left tackle, Matt Wilson and Lance Nimmo are running neck and neck.

It's the same at right guard, where Brad Knell and Jason Brooks are dead even. Of the four, only Wilson, a 6-5, 285-pound senior, has seen significant action. He started all 11 games at left tackle for the Mountaineers last year.

Establishing depth and getting his players used to hitting are the Mountaineers' main goals this week, Nehlen said. He said two-a-day practices can at times seem lackluster because of fatigue, not lack of skill.

"Whenever you go twice a day, they're kind of rusty all the time because they're tired," Nehlen said. "You won't see them zipping probably until we start school.

"The main thing is you've got to get them ready to play this week. They've got to get bumped around, get rid of the headaches, bumps and bruises. Because let's face it, they're going to get headaches this week."

Despite being a lock for the tailback job, sophomore Avon Cobourne, the Big East's leading rusher in 1999, did not rest on his laurels during the off-season.

Cobourne's upper body looks noticeably bigger and more defined.

He said he weighs 10 pounds more than he did as a freshman.

"I got bigger because I felt there was going to be a bigger load on my shoulders," Cobourne said, referring to the coming season. "I put a couple extra pounds on and worked on my speed. I feel good."

Cobourne led the league and broke WVU's freshman rushing record with 1,139 yards last year, a performance that even surprised him.

"I never expected to get 1,000 yards," Cobourne said. "My goal coming into the season was just to start. I didn't think I'd make that much of an impact on the team but I'll take it."

Despite the record-breaking season, Cobourne says he doesn't want to get too comfortable at practice.

"If I think like that I might get lackadaisical. I always have to feel that pressure on me to work harder," he said.

Cobourne needn't worry -- he's getting it. Nehlen said junior Cooper Rego, Cobourne's backup, has been impressive in camp so far. Rego's performance has helped soften the blow of Quincy Wilson's knee injury in the spring game.

Wilson, who played as a true freshman last year, will likely be red-shirted this season.

"When Quincy went down we needed (Rego) to come through as that backup and he's done a nice job," Nehlen said.

The coach also removed any doubt that Brad Lewis was the top man for the quarterback job.

"I think he's been the most outstanding guy we've had out on the field," Nehlen said of Lewis. "He's done everything we've asked him to do. He's throwing well, he's running well, he's lost some weight. He looks outstanding to me."

NOTES: Despite breaking his left hand in practice last week, reserve tight end Tim Frost practiced Monday while wearing a cast. A Marshall-WVU game is, apparently, an issue that will not die. A television reporter asked Nehlen about a possible future matchup on Monday. "I got enough trouble coaching, I don't want to schedule," Nehlen said. When asked if he wanted to play the Herd, Nehlen said, "Yeah, I'd play Marshall any time."

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