(Neal Brown Aug. 22 Zoom conference)
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Three weeks prior to the scheduled season opener against Eastern Kentucky, Neal Brown led the Mountaineers through a full squad, full contact scrimmage Saturday morning inside Milan Puskar Stadium.
“We just put the ball down and played a lot,” Brown said. “Conditioning-wise, we are not where we need to be. We went approximately 40 plays with the 1’s and the 2’s and 20 with the 3’s. We worked some situations also — two-minute, goal line, third down and red zones.”
Defensively, junior linebacker Exree Loe continued to draw praise from the head coach.
“He had a pick that ended a two-minute and a game. I have been impressed with him. He has shown improvement. He definitely has talent. He has gotten his weight up where it needs to be. For the last two years he has been one of our best special teams players.
Brown also singled out freshman defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor, freshman spear Naim Muhammad, freshman bandit Taurus Simmons and senior linebacker and Bridgeport graduate Dylan Tonkery.
On offense, the head coach once again highlighted the play of junior running back and the team’s leading returning rusher Leddie Brown.
“For us to be one of the most improved teams in the country, he has to be a guy that is consistent for us. I thought he was patient today and finished runs. He made guys miss and broke tackles on the second and third levels, which has been a point of emphasis that Chad Scott has had with him.
“We did run the ball better today. I think the middle of our offensive line is getting better. They have been more consistent. And they should be. (James) Gmiter has played all of last year. Chase (Behrndt) has played for a couple years now. Mike Brown played a lot last year. Briason Mays has played a lot in the last year. So we should continue to make improvements and we should be better. And we have been.”
Sophomore Bryce Ford-Wheaton stood out among the wideouts.
“He has had really good days except for one. He’s got talent. He’s got the size and he’s got the speed. He just has to put it together. He is a little bit further ahead than maybe what I thought he would be. He had some big plays today and almost went for a hundred yards.”
Brown also complimented the play of fellow receivers Reese Smith and Spring Valley graduate Graeson Malashevich. Special teams standouts included Hampshire graduate Evan Staley and Bridgeport graduate Dante Bonamico.
Brown met with the media for the first time since the NCAA ruled that student-athletes can play this season without exhausting a year of eligibility.
“This is the right decision to allow guys to play with a free mind and not worry about is it going to be worth counting one of my four (years). Now they freeze eligibility and they can play without concern.”
According to Brown, Bluefield graduate Sean Martin is a player that stands to gain a great deal from this ruling. Instead of being judicious with playing up to four games, the true freshman defensive lineman can develop while playing an entire season of games.
“He is a guy that if we had normal rules, probably would have redshirted him. We would have been kind of choosy about where we were going to play him in his four games. Now he is a guy that we can play and bring him along. By the end of the year, he will be a solid contributor for us, but we don’t have to worry about that four-game limit.”