(Neal Brown’s Saturday post-practice Zoom conference)
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Even though Neal Brown’s team was only able to take the field twice in the spring before the pandemic shut down all college sports, their new practice setup for fall camp is making up for some of the lost time.
The Mountaineers are essentially operating in a ‘split-squad’ format with two completely separate units and therefore, half of the players in a traditional practice. Yet the coaches are pulling ‘double sessions’ by leading two separate workouts.
“I think we are doing more teaching now and evaluating how they do in regards to situational football more so than how they are doing in one-on-one matchups,” Brown said. “Because, quite frankly, we have some mismatches. We’ve got some guys going against first-year players that were playing high school football last year that are a potential all-conference player in our league. So all the matchups aren’t even.
“I don’t know until we get into a whole-team environment, will we get true evaluations on some of these guys and be able to figure out exactly what our 2-deep looks like.”
In a way, Brown likens this time to a format the NCAA previously utilized when incoming freshmen were the first players to arrive for training camp, and took the field a few days before the upperclassmen did.
“We got three days with the freshmen and we got some really good one-on-one teaching with just the freshmen. Working these split squads, everyone is getting a lot of reps.
“It has been really good for those young kids because they are getting one-on-one coaching where in years past they wouldn’t get that because you are trying to get ready to play. We have a longer time to get ready to play and we are coaching fewer guys.”
In particular, Brown believes the offensive linemen stand to benefit the most. True freshmen rarely break into the rotation on the O-Line in their first season.
“It has really been a benefit for those young offensive linemen. Brandon Yates, Zach Frazier, Jordan White, Parker Moore — those guys and then add another transfer in there, those guys are going to get a lot of reps. And they are going against pretty good people a lot of times. They might not have gotten that if we were going split squad.”
The Mountaineers once again practiced in full pads on Saturday inside Milan Puskar Stadium but they are not yet tackling to the ground in full contact drills. With smaller numbers in each position group, a lot of skeleton work will be in store before 11-on-11 drills begin.
“We are doing a lot of half-line pass, 7-on-7. And then a lot of half-line run, where we work the front side of a run combo versus a defensive tackle, an end, a linebacker and sometimes a safety.”
Sinkfield draws rave reviews
For the second time this week, Brown singled out Alec Sinkfield for his work in practice. Junior Leddie Brown is the presumptive starter at running back but Sinkfield will be in the mix. He has rushed for 109 yards in two seasons.
“He has probably handled this layoff leading into the return-to-play model. He has put on weight. One of the things we really talked about with him improving is making guys in space and I thought he had a couple dynamic runs today and I am excited about his progress.”
Transfers pouring in, Scottie Young waiting for word
FBS-level transfers continue to pour in to Morgantown. Over the summer, Arizona safety Scottie Young, Arizona linebacker Tony Fields, Virginia offensive lineman Ja’Quay Hubbard, Maryland defensive lineman Bryce Brand, Troy punter Tyler Sumpter and Middle Tennessee State wide receiver Zach Dobson have all joined the Mountaineers. Brown says these players are helping to balance out the roster.
“We are low on scholarships. So we are trying to play catch up a little bit. We are trying to get the grades right in each room.
“We have some holes as far as years. We have very few seniors in this senior class. Our junior class has decent numbers. But we are just trying to even up from a grade-level standpoint in a lot of those position rooms.”
Young has adjusted well at safety after committing to WVU back in May. It is not yet know if he will be eligible for this season or if he will have to play as a senior in 2021.
“We’ve got an older group at safety. So if he does have to redshirt, I think that would be a good thing because we really lose a lot in that room going into next season.
“He is a proven player in the Pac-12. He has made a lot of plays and started a bunch of games against some really good people. Coach (Jahmile) Addae obviously coached him while he was at Arizona and he was a guy he had a lot of faith in. He has come here and hasn’t disappointed.”
Brown’s Zoom conference on Saturday was his first since the Big 12’s announcement that the league will proceed with their fall schedule. Despite the good news, Brown will continue to preach caution to his players.
“As we continue to get those negative test results back, that shows that we are doing the right thing. The real challenge is going to be when more and more students return to town. We know that is coming. So we have to continue to train our guys.”
Due to the pandemic, media and scouts have not yet been able to attend preseason practices. Brown says at times, the empty sidelines can drain energy from his players.
“When you all come out there or we have scouts there, the energy in our practices doesn’t have to be manufactured.
“When there are cameras out there and there are people making notes and writing stories and when we have multiple scouts at practice, as coaches we don’t have to start those guys.”