By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Sunday was the spring day the West Virginia Mountaineers were waiting for since the day spring practice began, the day when they put the drills behind them and held their first true scrimmage.
It lasted 72 plays, time enough to show what they could do and, yes, what they couldn’t do, but at this time of year that isn’t as important as another aspect of what happens when teams scrimmage.
They get to compete.
By nature, football players are among the most combative and competitive of athletes.
That’s why, in reality, the NFL is currently dealing with something it certainly never wanted to deal with, the bounty put on opponents for injuries instigated by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
While that is an outgrowth of the competition, and a deformation of it, at that, it is part of what happens.
You want guys to be battling with each other, mouthing off to each other. In fact, it is commonplace to have a fight or two break out in the midst of scrimmaging, although that is not nearly as dangerous to the welfare of these highly armored gladiators.
“They are competing,” WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen noted after the scrimmage. “If they don’t, then you have problems.”
This manifests itself in many ways, mostly in the attitude that exists when you actually are working on situations, running down and distance with scores and tackles and interceptions.
That means any number of things, but the thing that stands out the most is that Tavon Austin is jawing away at whomever it is on the other side.
“Tavon talks more crap than anyone on this team,” Holgorsen pointed out.
Trash talking is a relatively new facet of sports. Back in the day, you kept your mouth shut and went about your business. Bear Bryant’s greatest teams at Alabama won national championships and as they did so they would actually help opponents whom they had knocked on their fannies to their feet, gave them a pat on the rump.
As a high school football player your devoted servant here once took an elbow to the chin that brought on the stars in the middle of a Saturday afternoon game, only to have the Cyclops of an offensive tackle who had applied the blow come up after the game and apologize for being so rough.
Today, though, you intimidate as much through your words as your actions and Austin intimidates through both, and so it was that he spent much of the day yapping at cornerback Brodrick Jenkins as he tried to keep up with him.
There was a good bit of conversation going on, too, between defender Darwin Cook and wide receiver Stedman Bailey.
And on the line guard Jeff Braun caught Holgorsen’s attention with his spirited approach.
“He is a totally different guy from a year ago,” Holgorsen said, noting that he had a running battle of the words with nose guard Jorge Wright.
No one was going to get in between those two.
“That has to exist if you are going to get better,” Holgorsen said.
A scrimmage such as the one that was held Sunday and two others that are scheduled prior to the spring game serves that purpose.
“Who wins and loses isn’t necessarily the point,” Holgorsen said. “It’s not a competition. It’s done to make yourself and your team better. We are just looking for progress.”
That’s the coaches’ viewpoint.
The players see it differently. They are competing, trying to win, not the game but each individual battle. Jobs depend on it.
Hence, tempers flare from time to time and the coaches understand and accept that.
“Obviously, unless they waste too much time or carry it into the locker room, it’s fine. Then we tell them to quit it, but normally it’s good, wholesome, healthy fun,” Holgorsen said.
The fact of the matter is football practice really isn’t fun. Nothing is that is as repetitive as practice, especially when most of the time your mistakes are being pointed out to you over and over.
But a scrimmage breaks that monotony and brings out the best in everyone.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.