The West Virginia University football team resumed preseason work on Monday morning with split-squad practices in shorts and shoulder pads that wrapped up a little after 1 p.m.
Coach Neal Brown said today’s work was lighter by design.
“We got some good things accomplished,” he said. “There are two things we’ve got to get better at. We’ve got to strain to finish plays – we’re not good enough there right now – and the second thing is we’ve got to be more physical.”
Brown noted the physicality piece has partly been a function of the type of practices the team has had up to this point.
“But as we get closer, we’ve got to be more physical, and we’re not there yet,” he explained.
He said team leaders and depth chart questions will begin sorting themselves out when the team begins practicing together, which could happen later this week.
Brown explained that the first week of practice was basically a bonus week since the Mountaineers are not opening their season until Sept. 12.
“If we were really opening up on the 12th in a normal situation, camp would have started on a Friday and so that’s how we’re kind of approaching it,” he said. “Now, we are kind of getting into a camp mode. It’s still a lot of situational football and toward the end of the week we hope to get into some full-contact work as we get some test results back and things like that get into where we’re practicing as one team.
Brown cited safeties Jake Long and Sean Mahone for their performance with the first practice group this morning.
He also mentioned cornerback Daryl Porter Jr. made a big pick-six during the first group. Porter is a 5-foot-11-inch, 179-pound true freshman from Fort Lauderdale’s American Heritage High.
Among the second group, Brown mentioned defensive linemen Darius Stills and Jeffery Pooler Jr., who continues to get better.
“He’s changed his body and you can see that from an explosiveness standpoint,” Brown said.
Brown also noted senior Dante Bonamico’s work at safety.
Offensively, Brown said Ali Jennings and Bryce Ford-Wheaton had good practices making some plays down field with the second group.
“That was encouraging,” he said.
The second-year coach also continued to praise the work put forth by senior center Chase Behrndt.
“He has continued to play at a high level, and he’s growing in a leadership role,” Brown said.
Offensive line is still perhaps the biggest unknown on the team this year, and that won’t begin to sort itself out until the two groups come together and begin doing teamwork.
“We haven’t played a whole lot so I think we’ll get better there from a physicality standpoint, pad-leverage and those types of things as we go,” Brown said.
The schedule calls for split-squad practices on Tuesday and Wednesday with a recovery day slated for Thursday. If things go as planned, the team could come together and scrimmage on Saturday.
- Brown offered his thoughts on the saliva test that was approved by the FDA last weekend.
“It’s big news,” he said. “I think there is still a lot of unknowns about it. What is the availability? What’s the accuracy? I think those are going to be the biggest questions, but I think it will decrease your contact tracing considerably, and that’s kind of the biggest concern other than getting the virus.
“It’s like anything else; it’s going to be supply and demand related,” he added.
- The two squads have been concluding their split-squad practices with field goals. A successful kick results in the team gathering in front of Brown before leaving the field, but an unsuccessful kick means the team must do some up-downs before their post-practice meeting.
Today’s second group was required to do some up-downs.
- Brown said more evaluating is going on right now based on how players are performing in situations as opposed to individual one-on-one matchups.
“We’ve got some mismatches right now,” he said. “There are some guys that are potential all-conference players our league going against first-year players that were playing high school football last year so all of the matchups aren’t even.
“Until we get into a whole team environment is when we will get true evaluations of some of these guys and be able to figure out exactly what our two-deep looks like,” he added.
The split-squad setup has allowed the freshmen to get more reps than they would have normally received in the past, at least since the days when freshmen reported before the veterans and got exclusive on-field work with the coaching staff before the entire team practiced together.
- Arizona transfer Scottie Young was one of the defensive players Brown mentioned following Saturday’s situational practice inside the stadium.
The 5-foot-11-inch, 201-pounder started all 12 games for the Wildcats in 2019 when he produced 66 total tackles, broke up four passes and made one pick. In 32 career games, he generated 157 tackles, nine tackles for losses, 12 pass breakups and five interceptions.
“He really made some nice plays (Saturday). I thought he was active and was around the football a lot,” Brown said. “I thought his communication skills were really good.”
Brown said Saturday it’s still to be determined if Young will get his waiver by the NCAA to play this season.
“We feel like we have an older group at safety so if he does have to redshirt I think that will be a good thing because we really lose a lot in that room going into next season,” he admitted. “He’s a proven player in the Pac 12; he started a bunch of games and made a lot of plays against some really good people. Coach (Jahmile) Addae obviously coached him when he was at Arizona and he had a lot of faith in him.”
- Brown said other transfers could be announced once the appropriate paperwork is finished.
- Junior cornerback Dreshun Miller continues to earn praise from Brown for coverage skills. Miller was a junior college standout at Eastern Arizona College before enrolling at WVU last year. His 2019 ended prematurely when he injured his knee during preseason camp.