MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Entering his second season as West Virginia’s safeties coach, Dontae Wright is more comfortable than what he was a year ago.
With the exception of tearing his hamstring in preseason camp during what Wright called “a freak thing that happens on the sideline”, he has enjoyed the lead up to the 2021 season.
A big part of the enjoyment is Wright’s belief that the group he oversees on the back end of the defense possesses not only a wealth of talent and experience, but quality leadership and added depth.
Likely starters Alonzo Addae, Sean Mahone and Scottie Young are each redshirt seniors. There are backups with experience in Kerry Martin Jr. and Charles Woods, along with promising younger players Davis Mallinger, Saint McLeod and Caleb Coleman.
“They’re a fun group to coach, a fun group to be around,” Wright said. “They’re extremely talented. They work the right way. Effort is never an issue with this group, because of the leadership we have. Alonzo, Sean and Scottie do a great job of pushing the group and understanding what our standards are and what we live by. They work really hard and they happen to be really good football players, too.
“Those young guys have to grow up and they will, and they’ve made tremendous strides. But they’re going to be able to help us.”
Yet for all the attention Wright has spent focused on his position group, he can’t help but notice the improvement being made on the other side of the ball for the Mountaineers.
For two full weeks, Wright has seen his group go against what the WVU coaching staff feels it has good reason to believe will be an improved offense.
“Jarret Doege is playing at an extremely high level,” Wright said. “I have to go in there with my guys every day and say, ‘You can’t be mad at that, he made an unbelievable throw.’ He’s making throws that I’ve never seen him make. The ability to move around in the pocket, keep himself alive and get the ball out and into tight spots, recognizing coverages and where to go with the ball. He’s not making bad decisions. Not that he made bad decisions before, but he’s making the right decisions and he’s really grown into a really good quarterback.”
Wright also praised tailback Leddie Brown and the team’s offensive line before offering his assessment of a wide receiving corps that the players he specifically coaches have often found themselves matched up with in camp.
Much like the safeties, West Virginia’s wideouts aren’t short on experience.
However, the unit was plagued by drops at critical times last season and has owned up to the need to improve.
“I have not seen Oklahoma and they’re pretty good obviously, but I would be shocked if there’s a better top to bottom group [in the Big 12] than what we have here,” Wright said. “I know [offensive coordinator and receivers] coach [Gerad] Parker would be mad at me for saying that, but that’s the way I feel and I tell him that also.”
An improved offense has provided quite a challenge for a defense hopeful to duplicate last season’s success. Throughout camp, which head coach Neal Brown has said will conclude Tuesday before the team begins specific preparations for the September 4 season opener at Maryland, the battles between the offense and defense have been frequent, with little advantage to either unit.
“There’s not been a practice where one side has just completely dominated,” Wright said. “That’s what you want. A lot of position coaches don’t normally look at it that way. I look at the bigger picture. It goes [up and down] all practice long. Even the plays we’re making at times, it’s completely contested and people are just making great football plays. There’s never a time where it’s bad ball. It’s really exciting to watch and fun to be a part of.“