The Mountaineer football team is two weeks away from its 2020 season opener, and preparations for the upcoming campaign continued Saturday with an officiated scrimmage.
“Anytime you are doing an intrasquad scrimmage, there are going to be some things that are really good, but you are always concerned whether it is one side winning or the other side losing,” noted WVU’s second-year head coach Neal Brown. “There was a lot of give and take today. I thought the defense started off strong and forced some takeaways – a fumble and two interceptions – to start the scrimmage.
“The offense rebounded and ran the ball better,” continued Brown. “It did some really nice things towards the middle of the scrimmage. It had a nice coming-off drive where it went 98 or 99 yards.
“Defensively I think we can do better against the run. We’re not bad, but that’s something we really hang our hat on, and I think we can get better at that.”
Run defense wasn’t the only problem area that Brown recognized.
“The two biggest negatives are we had too many penalties. We had a full Power 5 (officiating) crew here, and we had way too many penalties,” said Brown. “The other thing is our special teams just aren’t good enough right now. We have to get better. We invest a lot of times in special teams, and that has to be our edge this season. Our effort, concentration and execution was not good enough. We did a lot of special teams live work today. We’re going to come back and work that a bunch on Tuesday. I’m disappointed in that.”
As he usually does after a practice, Brown also identified some individuals he thought stood out.
Junior running back Leddie Brown – “Offensively Leddie has had a nice week.”
Freshman running back A’Varius Sparrow – “Sparrow had a kickoff return today and had a couple nice runs running with the threes (third team).”
Freshman offensive lineman Zach Frazier – “Zach Frazier is a guy I’ve been impressed with our entire camp.”
Junior receiver Zack Dobson – “Zack Dobson, in his first real scrimmage with us, had a nice day today.”
Sophomore safety Tykee Smith – “Defensively, Tykee Smith had an interception, a really nice interception.”
Redshirt freshman cornerback Tae Mayo – “Tae Mayo probably had the play of the scrimmage, a shoe-string interception in one of the early drives.”
Senior linebacker Tony Fields – “I thought Tony Fields was really active in his first live football with us.”
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Fields, a grad transfer linebacker from Arizona, has been practicing with the Mountaineers for a week now.
A three-year starter for the Wildcats, it shouldn’t take Fields long to get up to game-speed at WVU with an opportunity to play either middle linebacker of weak-side linebacker.
“He’s playing mainly Mike right now for us, though he has the ability to play both,” Brown said of the 6-foot-1, 220-pound fourth-year senior from Las Vegas. “He really runs well, and you can tell he loves to play the game. He plays full speed every snap, great in pursuit. He’s learning our movements, but he has great energy and is physical at the point of contact. I’m excited about him and what he’s going to bring to our defense.
“We were thin at linebacker. We came in (last year) with a number of linebackers, but through some attrition and some movement, we became thin at the mike and will linebackers, as well as bandit,” explained Brown. “With Tony coming in, that gives us some flexibility. We can move (Jared) Bartlett back to bandit (after playing the redshirt freshman some in the preseason at the Mike), and use him there with V.D. (VanDarius Cowan), which is kind of a hybrid linebacker/pass rush position. Tonk (Dylan Tonkery) is still there at Mike, and he’s had a nice camp. Dylan is one of our most improved players this camp. Then Exree Loe has played well at Will, along with Josh Chandler(-Semedo).
“This gives us some depth at those positions and some flexibility, especially as we go to the nickel and dime defenses.”
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Brown looks to create depth and competition within his linebacking corps, and he also continues to try to build an improved offensive line.
“We’ve got a battle at left tackle with Brandon Yates and Junior (Uzebu). It’s been kind of give and take,” explained WVU’s head coach. “Just when we think one guy is ready to take it, the other will have a good day and the other will fall back a little bit.
“(James) Gmiter is solidified at left guard. Chase (Behrndt) has had a really nice camp at center, and Zach Frazier will back him up at that spot,” added Brown. “At right guard, Mike Brown is there, and John Hughes is at right tackle.
“Briason Mays has really been a bright spot in camp,” said Brown. “He’s played center, guard and tackle, and we feel he’s a guy who can move around and maybe even break into the (starting) lineup.”
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West Virginia’s football players and other student-athletes are holding a march on Sunday, Aug. 30 adding their voices to the calls for social justice.
The march will begin at 5:30 p.m. outside the WVU Coliseum in front of the Blue Gate. From there it will proceed down Patteson Drive to the athletic fields next to the Rec Center, where there will be a series of speeches.