MORGANTOWN - West Virginia University football coach Bill Stewart is looking to develop a team chemistry and veteran leadership for the 2011 campaign, and he believes his team took a step in that direction at Wednesday's practice.
Under overcast skies and chilling morning temperatures, the Mountaineers took to the field for the first time since playing in the Champs Sports Bowl back in December.
"I told the team and the staff that all teams that are good have great chemistry, great leadership, and great work ethic," Stewart said. "(Wednesday) was the first step in that direction. I thought our effort and our enthusiasm were good. They had a lot of bounce in their step."
He added it was difficult to make any future predictions based on a practice without pads and contact.
"I liked our enthusiasm and the way we jelled," Stewart said. "I liked the way the defense ran on and off the field. You could see the enthusiasm."
Stewart will be looking for a new running back to show he is ready to carry the load left behind by the graduation of Noel Devine. Shawne Alson, a junior who filled in admirably when Devine was injured, is one candidate, as is sophomore Trey Johnson. Ryan Clarke, Matt Lindamood, and former tight end Ricky Kovatch will also figure into the mix.
"We need a young, fast back to set up," Stewart said. "We have them in our stable, but a lot of them haven't played much."
Defensive end Bruce Irvin showed the coaches he has not missed a step despite the winter layoff. His improvement could be a double-edged sword for the Mountaineers, one in which he could terrorize opponents on Saturday after doing so to his teammates in practice during the week.
"We had some trouble blocking Bruce," said offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. "He was impressive. He's going to give me nightmares."