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WVU Quarterback Drills Aid Smith in Strong Start

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MORGANTOWN -

Geno Smith, as expected, is off to a hot start in the 2011 season. Playing in an offense with a history of quarterback success, Smith is working his way toward shattering WVU single-season records.

There is plenty of football left to be played and no one is going to pretend that the entire Big East schedule will be a cakewalk and allow Smith to pass at will, but when you look at what the junior was able to do against a defense with LSU's reputation, the future looks bright.

His 65.1 career completion percentage ranks first all-time and it's something Smith and his position coach, Jake Spavital, pride themselves on. There are a number of drills the quarterbacks work on each day to improve these statistics in addition to the extensive repetition of every play in the book.

One of those drills is what Spavital calls the Step-Through Drill.

The quarterbacks shuffle back and forth through a series of pop-up dummies while Spavital swats at the ball and moves the dummies. Smith and the other signal callers are tasked with keeping their eyes down field toward three passing targets and feeling the movement of the dummies without changing their focus.

If they feel the dummies close the gap behind them, they continue to move along to the next opening. The drill tests pocket presence and when Spavital calls out, "Ball," the player steps through the bags, creating space enough to the throw the ball toward the targets.

If the quarterback misses the target, they're made to do two pushups as punishment. Spavital says when players first try the drill, they are almost always unable to keep their eyes down field. There are times that he sees a new quarterback come into practice and even before the snap of the ball he's looking at the rushing end rather than coverage.

Spavital jokes that it could be renamed the Bruce Irvin Drill.

"It's one of the drills that people don't really stress the importance of and it's the one thing that we really stress the importance of," he says. "I think we take a lot of pride in the whole pocket presence thing and if you look at Geno and look at the quarterbacks in the past, they all have pretty good pocket presence."

There have been a number of times this season that Smith has escaped pressure and either made a play with his feet or with his arm, but more often than not, he stands tall until he finds his receiver, keeping his eyes down field.

The second drill Spavital teaches on a daily basis is the bucket drill, which tests his quarterbacks' ability to toss a fade route and put the ball where only the offensive player can get to it.

The quarterback is taught to gather the snap, flip his feet to get set and immediately throw the ball. They're told to disregard whether or not they've got their fingers on the laces and just throw it however it comes from the center.

In order to keep this repetitive drill engaging, Spavital turns it into a game to see who can make the most. He doesn't hesitate at all in naming true freshman Paul Millard the best of his competitors at throwing it right into the bucket.

Smith, he says, has improved greatly since he began running the drill, though his most recent attempt at throwing it was an incompletion intended for Stedman Bailey at Maryland. Spavital admits the drill is a tough one and quarterbacks definitely struggle when they first do it.

"It's extremely hard because you're trying to work it at such a fast pace, but the reality of things is trying to be under control at the same time and normally when you start off with this drill, it looks pretty bad," he says.

Smith is continuing to run these drills every day in practice to make sure that his passes don't look bad and that hopefully by the end of the year, he'll have rewritten the Mountaineers record book.

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