MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — On his first day of practice as West Virginia’s head coach, Neal Brown made official one final tweak to his coaching staff.
Inside linebackers coach Blake Seiler will also hold the title of special teams coordinator for the Mountaineers, though he will not be alone. Multiple assistants will be responsible for various aspects of the special teams unit.
- Seiler (special teams coordinator, punt unit)
- Al Pogue (punt return unit)
- Jahmile Addae (kickoff unit)
- Chad Scott (kickoff return unit)
- Matt Moore (field goal unit)
- Jordan Lesley (field goal block unit)
Seiler spent the first decade of his coaching career at Kansas State, where Bill Snyder’s special teams units were typically among the most respected in the nation.
Brown said the setup is similar in nature to what worked for him when he was at Troy.
“It’s something we talk about a lot, special teams,” Brown said. “All 10 assistants have various roles. We think if we invest time and energy, to our best players being involved on special teams, that will be how we attack it.”
In the spring, the Mountaineers will dedicate 25-30 minutes of each practice to special teams, though primarily on technique.
“We talk with our players about special teams technique and effort,” Brown said. “We have to demand the effort, and as coaches we have to do a really good job teaching the technique.”
Brown’s goal is to develop a two-deep for each special teams unit by the start of August training camp.
“A lot of special teams in game-planning each individual week,” Brown said. “But for our base in each phase, we want them to have a clear understanding.”
West Virginia’s first practice under a new coaching staff looked very much like a first practice under a new coaching staff — which is to say, not very crisp.
“There were some times today where it wasn’t pretty, which is to be expected,” Brown said. “They haven’t played competitive football going back to the bowl game. There were periods that were ugly. There were periods that were good. Some guys who redshirted last year had some moments today. We have a starting point. Now it’s about getting better.”
Among the worst performers? Brown himself.
“I’m rusty. Haven’t practiced since Mobile [Dollar General Bowl],” Brown said. “It’ll take me two or three days to get a flow of signals. Everybody’s gonna make mistakes, I’ll probably make the most. We’ll all get better.”
That’s not to say there weren’t some solid performances on Day 1. In particular, Brown liked how the Mountaineers secondary practiced, citing an interception return touchdown from cornerback Keith Washington and a pair of pass breakups from Josh Norwood. (Brown did not reveal the guilty party who threw the interception.)
“We did a good job in the secondary of communicating,” Brown said.
Brown also said young wide receivers like Sam James and Bryce Wheaton had some promising moments.
Get on board
While the execution may not be there yet for the Mountaineers, the enthusiasm is.
“What I appreciate about this group is we probably have 98, 99 percent of these guys trying to do the right thing and are bought-in,” Brown said. “We’ve got very few people that aren’t.”
So how do the stragglers get converted? Brown said that responsibility largely falls to their teammates.
“It’s all about their peers,” Brown said. “It’s all about accountability. The staff can get you to so much. But it has to be about player-led accountability, as well.”
With the first three practices dedicated to installing the offense, there’s not much to reveal about West Virginia’s quarterback competition.
“It takes awhile, timing-wise, to get some things down,” Brown said.
Brown still had nice things to say about Jack Allison, Austin Kendall and Trey Lowe.
“Jack, I think he’s got some confidence,” Brown said. “He probably didn’t play as well as he wanted to in the bowl game, but he got used to leading the offense. I thought he handled himself. Austin had command, which is difficult to do with a new team with less than three months being here. And Trey Lowe looked improved based on the stuff I saw [reviewing practice] from last fall.”