MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – From the sound of it, Neal Brown would probably like his first spring at West Virginia to run for another month. Instead, he’s only got a week to get things to a level he deems acceptable.
“We made a good amount of strides this week. I’m proud of how we prepared,” Brown said. “Next week is really critical for us as far as our development as a football team. We’ve got to get a lot of things done leading into the summer.”
Notably, the quarterback battle remains decidedly unresolved. The lone quarterback to impress Brown on Saturday was walk-on Trent Jackson, whose place on last year’s depth chart was accurately summed up by the fact he wore No. 44 in his official team photo.
“Trent threw the best balls down the field today,” Brown said. “We’ve got to get better at quarterback. We’re too up-and-down right now. We have some things we do really, really well. Our best plays today were really good. But at quarterback you’re only as good as your bad plays. And our bad plays today were really bad. Stuff that will get you beat.”
Brown indicated that frontrunners Austin Kendall, Jack Allison and Trey Lowe forced too many throws where discretion would have been the better part of valor.
“You want your bad plays to be second down, or you go punt the ball,” Brown said. “Our bad plays were too bad today. The three guys I didn’t mention are doing some good things. But Trent made the most plays today down the field.”
Jackson is still running almost exclusively with the second- and third-string offense, so Saturday’s performance shouldn’t be viewed as some sort of game-changer. It’s more of an illustration that the Mountaineers have plenty of work to do. For the most part, this is to be expected – new coach, new offense and new quarterback is a combination that is bound to take time.
“At quarterback there has to be continuity. We’re repping three, sometimes four guys there right now. It’s tough,” Brown said. “As a quarterback, it’s hard to get into rhythm when you go a series and sit a series. There is some of that. And that’s to be expected.
“I’m not down about the quarterbacks right now. Do I wish we could be playing as good as we could be playing? Yes. Are we about where I expected us to be right now? Yes.”
The quarterbacks aren’t the only ones trying to find a groove right now. With Marcus Simms absent from practice, the Mountaineers are attempting to replace 69 percent of their receptions and 73.6 percent of their receiving yardage from last year.
“If you look at it across the board, a lot of new people are playing,” Brown said. “So a lot of things are similar from a scheme standpoint, but not only from a production standpoint are those guys gone, but also the leadership in the room. Lot of moving pieces offensively.”
Brown thinks offensive play has also suffered because the primary emphasis right now is on installation rather than execution.
“We’re trying to install the whole offense in the spring so we can continue to grow over the summer,” Brown said. “If you do that in the spring, it’s difficult because each day you’re kind of adding things. When you get to the season you’re practicing the same thing Sunday on through. What we’re asking them to do now is harder. It’s harder to play offensive football in the spring than it actually is during the season.”
Mountaineers on the mend
Linebacker VanDarius Cowan and right guard Josh Sills both returned to the field Saturday after missing the prior week recovering from leg injuries.
“VanDarius did some really good things,” Brown said. “His talent showed today.”
Sills practiced limited reps, but still impressed.
“We’re much better when he’s in there,” Brown said.
Running back Kennedy McKoy was limited in Saturday’s scrimmage. Linebacker Zach Sandwisch was also seen in shorts rather than full pads after practice.
Pitts at his peak
Derrek Pitts has bounced between cornerback and safety over his two previous seasons as a Mountaineer, but has been stepping up this spring as he stays at safety.
Brown said the primary offseason goal for Pitts will be to build upon his 184-pound frame.
“He’s physical,” Brown said. “He’s got to continue to gain weight so he can play that way over the course of a 13-, 14-game season. He’s made improvements on his study habits. He’s preparing is getting better. He’s reading through his keys. I’m pleased with him.”