Establishing identity high atop Brown’s wish list this spring

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Spring football is a chance for seasoned players to show they’re ready to take the next step while those with less experience hope to prove they’re worthy of an expanded role.

For newcomers, the goal is to grow acclimated to a different program and surroundings in hopes of easing an adjustment.

While those objectives apply to much of the personnel on West Virginia’s football team, it appears there is one goal above all else for the Mountaineers this spring.

“The first [objective] is to establish an identity,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said. “We kind of treated January as a new beginning. Even though we’re going into year five, we’ve gone back to the basics. 

“We’ve laid it out in four ways. We want to be disciplined. Sometimes discipline has a negative connotation and that’s not what it is. We have to get our alignments and assignments and be better-conditioned. The second thing is strain and playing with extreme effort. The third thing is physicality, and that’s what we have to work on this spring from a blocking and tackling perspective. The fourth thing is smart. We’re putting a focus on situational football and being better in certain situations.”

As for what kind of identity Brown hopes to see his team establish, the head coach believes he’ll have a better idea as the Mountaineers progress through spring sessions, which they began Tuesday with the first of 15 practices.

“I’ll have a better answer, but not a perfect one by the end of spring,” Brown said. “We have to continue to run the ball and even improve what we’ve done. We have to focus on stopping the run. So much is talked about from last year us giving up pass yardage and explosive pass plays. That’s accurate, but what hurt us was giving up run yardage, especially on first downs. We have to be a team that runs the football and stops the run, but as far as who we’re going to be as far on offense, defense and special teams, we have to get through some padded practices.”

Although Brown will formulate a better idea of team’s strengths and weaknesses over the next month, it’s clear he feels West Virginia will need to control both lines of scrimmage if it is to improve.

All five starting offensive linemen and the team’s six-leading rushers, four of which gained at least 275 yards on the ground, return from last season. That suggests establishing the run will be pivotal for WVU, which will be breaking in a new starting quarterback to start the season for the fourth time in Brown’s five years.

“We’re not trying to hide from last year not being good enough,” Brown said. “This is the way we’ve talked about it program wise and I’ll say it publicly. This comes from our data analytics company, which talks about the three Es. The first one is efficiency. We have to get better at first down, third down and red zone efficiency. We gave up way too many explosive plays and we have to figure out a way to use our ability to run the ball to create explosives downfield. The third E is eliminate errors. Offensively, that’s procedure penalties, turnovers, TFLs and sacks. Defensively, it’s alignment issues, communication and missed tackles. When we talk about fixing it, it’s efficiency, explosives and eliminate errors.”

Because the Mountaineers didn’t produce their desired results in 2022, when they finished 5-7 and failed to qualify for a bowl game for the second time in Brown’s tenure, the head coach says it at least partially changes the approach to the offseason.

“We didn’t get the results we wanted. We did not play well enough last year,” Brown said. “That’s not something we’ve been hiding from. We’ve confronted that. When results don’t go the way you want to go, you reset. That’s kind of where we’re at. From an identity standpoint, we have to establish that. It started in the winter and has to carryover to spring when you actually can wear equipment, and then it has to go from spring to summer to fall camp and into the season, but that’s what triggered it.”

To help form the identity, Brown says West Virginia will conduct more 11-on-11 work throughout the spring in an effort to create competition. While that may not occur in an exact game-like setting, Brown believes it’s still beneficial.

“We’re going to play more 11 on 11,” he said. “Tackle to the ground, I don’t know if you can get away with it in this day and age, because you like depth. We’re going to get through the first six days and work on installing, and the back part of spring is going to be a lot of 11-on-11 playing. How much we’ll tackle to the ground, we’ll see, but there will be a lot of 11-on-11, because we need to play.”

More Sports

South's perimeter play leads the way in 123-106 win over North
South turned a six-point halftime lead into a 21-point advantage over the first 5-plus minutes of the second half. The team's hot shooting from the outside proved pivotal.
June 10, 2023 - 1:16 am
North's balanced attack too much for South in 101-68 triumph
After rattling off 15 unanswered points in the first half, North never looked back and had its way.
June 9, 2023 - 11:45 pm
Class AAA all-state softball list
June 9, 2023 - 9:59 am
St. Marys' Ramsey utilizing experience of North-South week to help prepare him for what's to come
A two-way standout for the Blue Devils, Ramsey is set to soon begin playing collegiately at West Liberty.
June 8, 2023 - 6:55 pm