Creating The Squad: WVU’s Process For Sorting And Selecting The Playing Roster

Creating The Squad: WVU’s Process For Sorting And Selecting The Playing Roster

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – If there’s one piece of gear that West Virginia’s football coaching staff could obtain that it doesn’t already possess, it might be the Sorting Hat from Hogwarts Castle.

The iconic headgear, which places incoming students into their proper houses in the Harry Potter universe, might be of some help around the Puskar Center over the next few days. That’s because, as fall camp ends and the start of classes, along with first-game preparations, begin, the staff is involved with figuring out not only starters at each position, but also the backups and those who are ready to play. Getting all those selections made can be a difficult process, as care must be taken to provide depth for every position, but not tap those who aren’t yet ready to participate. It’s even more important for road games, with a more limited travel squad to be determined.

Of course, a number of those picked don’t require any debate at all. Determining the handful of open starting spots, beginning with the much-debated quarterback position, could require more discussion, though. Making those last few choices might also be difficult, although head coach Neal Brown noted recently that he doesn’t have a target number in mind for the overall roster of players who will dress and be available for home games.

As for the process? It’s a group affair, with every coach having input.

“I’ll go around the room and say, ‘We play tomorrow, give me your rotation. How are you going to play it?’ I’ll have my thoughts,” Brown detailed. “We do a production grade very day, we do a plus/minus grade every day. We do an effort grade every day. Those are cumulative, and we keep a running chart of them.”

That all sounds very metric-oriented, which isn’t surprising given Brown’s attention to detail and his methodical approach to coaching. He doesn’t, however, turn his back on aspects of the process that can’t be quantified.

West Virginia offensive line coach Matt Moore confers with head coach Neal Brown as the Mountaineers first fall practice of 2019 gets underway

“Then you go by feel,”  the first-year head coach continued, describing the gut instinct that coaches sometimes have about a player that might be on the border, or not be graded at the top end, but who might have the bit of moxie or zip that makes him a gamer.  “As a coach you should be a professional evaluator. It doesn’t mean you are going to be right every time, but you should be pretty good at it.”

While secondary mentor Jahmile Addae notes that he’s never had a player who was poor in practice and great in games, there’s still a little wiggle room there, at least from the measurement standpoint. While not discounting the value of daily practice grades, offensive coordinator Matt Moore leans more toward live action evaluation.

“The first thing I told my guys, from the first meeting, was that this job is about production. Can you do your job? You may cross your feet over, or you may be high, but if you get your job done, if you produce, then that’s what it’s about. So it’s more about how you do in scrimmages,” Moore detailed. “Are you making your blocks? Are you doing what you are supposed to do? If you go out there and you have great technique, but let the guy cross your face every time and make the tackle, that doesn’t matter. It’s more about the guy producing when it’s game time and the lights are on and there are people in the stands. That’s what I put a lot of weight on.”

Every coach likely has his own set of factors in making his decision and evaluating his players, and that’s good. Using different factors and sharing opinions should help make the best decisions in picking who will be on the field for the season opener on Aug. 31. Of course, that’s just the first step in the process. For week two, when the Mountaineers hit the road, another decision process looms.

“From there, we get 70 on our travel roster, figure out what that looks like,” said Brown. “Then the next piece of that is you have to figure out how you are going to use them. If Player A needs to redshirt, you need to figure out if that’s a guy you need to get into four games this year. That’s not just, ‘You are going to play the first four games.’ There’s a science to that.”

That’s all part of the ongoing evaluation process, which also has to take into account filling in for injuries and moving players up who have improved over the course of the season. Enough redshirt preservation players need to be available to cover those eventualities, making that job a more difficult one. It’s a workload that didn’t exist two years ago, but it will be vital for WVU, which is thin at several roster spots, this year.

With the final scrimmage of camp complete, Brown and his staff have their schedule laid out running up to the opener.

“Fall camp is cut off is on Wednesday. That’s the first day of school, and we’ll give them that day off,” West Virginia’s head coach explained. “Monday we’ll have a good practice, and then Tuesday we’ll have a bunch of live special teams work, and get some young guys some tackle work. JMU prep will start on Thursday. We’ll do a mock game on Saturday. We have a lot of guys who have never played in a game, so I think we need that.”

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