MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As expected, things ran a great deal more smoothly for West Virginia as the Mountaineers opened their second season under Neal Brown on Tuesday morning.
“Our energy was really good, which is to be expected,” Brown said. “It’s hard to practice football without pads, especially along the lines. [But a] much cleaner start today than either [fall or spring] last year. Today, the first practice of spring, we were probably better than we were in fall camp a couple times.”
Of course, it is hard to tell much about a football team when it is not yet wearing helmets, pads, or even pants for that matter. Day 1’s work was primarily focused on the passing game.
“Offensively, the bright spot was several explosive plays downfield. It was mostly a passing day today because of the nature of workouts,” Brown said. “On defense, the D-line was active. We got hands on the ball more than we did last year. Getting hands up more than last year is a point of emphasis.”
Brown said it was a rough day for the secondary, which also isn’t a surprise with the Mountaineers replacing three of last season’s five primary defensive backs.
“We have a lot of talent at wideout, but receivers got behind the DB too many times today,” he noted.
Due to the nature of Tuesday’s practice, there was little to glean from what will be one of the most crucial position groups for the Mountaineers in 2020.
No matter what happens this spring, West Virginia will debut two new tackles this season. Junior John Hughes and redshirt freshman Parker Moorer are practicing at right tackle, while sophomore Junior Uzebu and redshirt freshman Brandon Yates are working at left tackle.
“Moorer and Yates, how they progress is going to be a huge factor for us,” Brown said. “How we handled them last year was the right way, I think.”
Guards James Gmiter and Michael Brown are back, and center Chase Behrndt is able to practice in non-contact drills through the spring. Briason Mays returns on the interior, while Gmiter and Noah Drummond will also work at center in practices where Behrndt is held out.
Given the overall lack of experience up front — Mike Brown is the only senior, and he only started playing football in junior college — Neal Brown said WVU’s run-block scheme will not be very complicated.
“We got a little gadgety at the end of last year just to give us a chance,” Brown said. “We’ve got three run schemes that we’re going to try to master. Rather than trying to do a bunch of different stuff — which wasn’t the intent last year, we just kind of had to, really — this should be a teaching environment this spring. Our record will be the same April 18 as it is now.
“So what we’re trying to do is get every front that we will see throughout the year from our defense, and try to master those three run plays. Protection-wise we won’t ask them to do a whole lot — we were pretty good protection-wise last year — but that’s kind of our thought.”