Fall camp has begun and split-squad work is here to stay

Gold and Blue Nation

The preseason is largely back to normal -- but the Mountaineers are taking what they learned in 2020 and putting it to good use

The boys are back in town and the smell of football is in the air.

After having the past six days off, WVU football started fall camp — the players reported to the facility on Thursday, and on Friday morning, it was time to get to work.

“Good first day, basically flag football day one. It’s really hard to tell until we get some pads on, but really good energy,” the head coach said fresh off the practice field.

Things do a lot different from this time last year, and that includes the Milan Puskar Center. It received a $55 million renovation and that has helped the energy in the building reach an all-time high as the 2021 season approaches. While things slowly return to normal, there is one carry-over from the 2020 season that Coach Brown and his staff are keeping around — split squad practices.

“We went split squads today and the reason behind that is that’s one of the things last year that we found out was a real positive,” Brown said. “The guys are out there for a shorter amount of time but we get more total reps. For our young guys, it really helps them because they get one-on-one coaching and you always learn better by doing rather than watching.”

Brown added that two practices are harder on the coaches, but it’s the benefits to the players that make them worth it, and last season was proof of that.

“We do a lot of drill work special teams wise and by splitting the squad, we found guys last year that really helped us as the year went on. We wouldn’t have recognized them because they probably would have been on scout team early on in camp, but because we were split-squad they got live reps and were very proficient at the drills,” he said.

Another positive for split-squad practices is if/when the team experiences injuries throughout the season, there’s a better chance players will be ready to step into those roles immediately. Coach Brown added he foresees the same thing applying to redshirt players.

“We are back under the old rules of a four-game redshirt and what I project happening is these young guys, or first-year players, are getting quality reps that they are logging, so now when we have to use them in their four games they will be more prepared to do that,” Brown said.

A few additional notes from day one:

— Coach Brown said quarterback Jarret Doege and defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor have really changed their bodies this offseason. Doege is close to the same weight but “his makeup is totally different” and he’s down to under 10 percent body fat. Mesidor has also made changes from a physicality standpoint.

“When you see those guys you will be like ‘oh okay’ because there’s a significant difference than when we got done with the spring game,” Brown said.

— Injury report: redshirt junior tight end Mike O’Laughlin has a minor injury, Coach Brown said keeping him out is more precautionary. Freshman bandit Ja’Corey Hammett is still recovering from ACL injury sustained during his high school season. Redshirt sophomore cornerback Naim Muhammad had offseason surgery and will likely be out a few weeks.

“On a positive injury note, Evan Staley kicked today almost nine months from his injury. Our athletic trainer Vince Blankenship really bragged on him — as good of a rehab process as he’s ever seen and he’s been doing rehab and physical therapy for a long time,” Brown said of his super senior kicker. “Proud and happy for Evan.”

The head coach said they put pressure on Staley at the end of practice and he made the kick.

— The only player not on campus is incoming freshman Jaylen Anderson. Coach Brown said there have been some “clearinghouse issues” and they are not sure when the RB will arrive but are “hopeful” he will still be joining the team.

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