Finally, a full-squad practice for the Mountaineers.
West Virginia spent the first nine practices of fall training camp doing split-squad work to maintain proper social distancing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Friday, coach Neal Brown opted to bring the entire team together for the first time since March 12 when spring practice was canceled.
The players were spread out in the Caperton Indoor Practice Facility for a team meeting and then hit the field together for a two-hour practice.
Overall, Brown thought it was a so-so performance today by his team.
“To be honest, it was sloppy; it wasn’t good football, but there were some good individual performances on offense and defense. But it wasn’t good enough,” he said afterward.
“If you watched us practice today, it was not impressive,” he continued. “Too many guys on the ground and it just looked like we hadn’t practiced very much in a physical environment and that’s the case. Today was one of the first, real physical days we’ve had, and we’ve got to play physical football to have a chance to compete in the Big 12, but it was sloppy today.”
Brown said he was disappointed in his team’s inability to compete with each other. There were too many players on the ground for a “thud” (non-tackling) practice.
“That’s something we talk about a lot is we’ve got to be able to compete with each other because we’re all on the same team. I want the competitiveness, but I want us to do a better job of taking care of each other and not being on the ground. When you are on the ground that’s when people get hurt,” he said.
Brown noted that today was a product of some of his players not being disciplined enough. A spring without football work could be one reason, he mentioned.
“I think that’s not just us but probably every football team across the country is dealing with this because you didn’t have much of an offseason, so you have a year-long plan to create discipline within your program on the football field and it showed today we are not where we need to be from a discipline standpoint,” he said. “There were a lot of procedure penalties and just not knowing how to practice.”
On a positive note, one player who continues to catch Brown’s eye is true freshman cornerback Daryl Porter Jr. It’s the fourth consecutive day that Brown has specifically mentioned Porter’s performance in the secondary.
He had a couple of interceptions during the team period and seems to have a knack for being around the football.
“I’ve been impressed with the way he competes,” Brown said. “I’m not surprised with his knowledge of football. I’m not surprised with his ability, but he has stepped in and shown no fear, and he’s been competitive from the get-go.”
Brown indicated the Plantation, Florida, resident will get a hard look at immediate playing time this fall if he can maintain this level of performance.
“He’s got a chance. He may even be able to break into the lineup,” Brown said. “He’s definitely going to play. If you keep making plays in practice that’s how you are going to earn your way onto the field on Saturdays and so far so good for him.”
Other defensive players Brown mentioned today were outside linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo and safety Sean Mahone.
Offensively, Brown said he was most pleased with the running game.
“I thought we did some better things in the run game. Tony Mathis Jr., in kind of a red zone period, had several nice runs,” Brown said. “Leddie (Brown), in a first-down period, had several nice runs so that was good.”
The coach also indicated that special teams play was subpar on Friday.
“We did a competitive special teams drill, and I thought it was not to the level that we need it to be. I thought our energy was low, and I didn’t think our effort was what it needed to be,” he said. “For us to be successful, special teams have got to be an edge, and that drill wasn’t good enough.”
Brown said the plan for Saturday morning is to have a full team practice inside the stadium with more team work on the menu. He said he’s looking for some cleaner football with fewer procedure penalties.
“I think it’s important that we show improvement in situations,” he said. “That’s something we’ve been really focusing on so we need to show that we’re learning the lessons. We are making mistakes, we are correcting them on video, talking about them in walk throughs and now I want to see it come to fruition in a live setting.”
Next week will be a continuation of what the team did today and will do tomorrow, according to Brown.
“We’re still trying to figure out who we are going to play with and get our stuff installed and just get better,” he said.
“This camp is so much different than any camp I’ve ever been a part of so we’re just going week to week,” Brown added. “Right now, I know for the next 10 days we’re going to be in a mode of trying to be physical and getting our guys where they can play the game for continuous reps.”