MORGANTOWN - While the offensive skill guys and the back end of the defense are working on 7-on-7 drills during the summer, the linemen at West Virginia have found a different way to work their craft.
The strength and conditioning coaches have introduced boxing, a sport that is known for its hand-eye coordination, footwork, and stamina. They're doing this to improve themselves in all of those areas, plus, it's something different. Bursting past a cone can have its dull points after, say, a minute.
''Any type of new activity, I would say it's good because the guys look forward to doing it,'' said defensive end Will Clarke, a man who is primed for a knockout, er breakout, season in WVU's new defensive alignments.
Photo WVU Sports Communications
West Virginia offensive lineman Pat Eger (76) and his cohorts up front on both sides of the ball, have been giving boxing a try.
It's not as if these guys are trying to knock each other out.
''We just do a lot of sparring and hitting heavy bags and footwork,'' offensive lineman Pat Eger said.
Still, fellow offensive lineman Quinton Spain (6-foot-5, 335 pounds) thinks he knows who the heavyweight champ at WVU is.
''Spain always says stuff,'' Clarke said.
Clarke admitted he doesn't necessarily have an eye for boxing, even as some well-respected judges in the sport have come under fire with criticisms that they don't either in the wake of last weekend's Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley result.
''I would say a lot of pretenders more than anything,'' Clarke said of his teammates. ''I can't comment though. Maybe you guys if you saw them, maybe you'd see some Floyd Mayweather potential out there.''
It this something that could catch on team-wide?
What if a guy like 5-9, 174-pound speedster Tavon Austin were in the ring?
''He would probably do the same thing he does on the field,'' Clarke said. ''Duck, then come up and try to hit somebody.''
Donovan Miles remembers the phone call well. It's mostly because he was really worried about what it might concern.
''I didn't know what was going on,'' Miles said. ''I'm trying to think of what I've been doing all week. 'Am I in trouble? What's happening? I know I went to every class.' ''
Turns out, the call wasn't about what Miles had done. It was about what the coaches thought he could do. They asked him in to gauge how he felt about a position change. Depth was needed at fullback. Miles had been used in spot duty as a linebacker throughout his career.
''The only hesitation I had was that phone call,'' Miles said.
As nearly all of these guys did, Miles played both ways in high school, but the last time he heard offensive terminology was right around the time WVU was losing to Pitt with a national championship game on the line in late 2007.
Miles went through the spring as a fullback, and he has spent the summer trying to trim some weight. He's finding the entire experience to be full of positives.
''I'm loving it,'' he said. ''Just being able to make an impact. I feel like I can really make an impact at this position.''
Barber A Leader?
A year ago, then-freshman linebacker Jared Barber was trying to find his way. Today, he's showing it to others.
After a rookie season in which he finished with 23 total tackles, including six in the Orange Bowl, Barber says he is working harder than he ever has.
''I do want to play as many plays as possible without, you know, dying,'' he said.
But it's that type of mentality that has his teammates taking notice.
''I try to bust my butt when I work out and if somebody sees me work hard, hopefully they'll work harder,'' he said. ''I don't like to say anything about myself, but I try to be (a leader) for sure. Everybody wants to be a leader and lead by example. It's an honor for the guys to even mention me as a leader and humbles me.''
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net