First Down Note For WVU Football Spring

WVU head coach Neal Brown at practice.

First Down Note For WVU Football Spring

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – For the first time, we got to see what a displeased Neal Brown looks like.

Following his team’s third practice of the 2019 spring football season, Brown had a few negatives to point out about his football team, which is still taking its first steps in learning how to practice, much less run cohesive plays. That, of course, must be taken into account, as the spring is more about teaching techniques and fundamentals than it is about putting an offense and defense together. Brown, for his part, wasn’t ranting and raving – it’s not his style, as has been shown during two different open practice sessions so far. Still, it was clear he was sending a message to his team.

VanDarius Cowan
West Virginia linebacker VanDarius Cowan lines up in a drill at practice.

“Our practice habits have to be better; (we were) on the ground too much,” said Brown, who emphasizes staying on one’s feet as an indicator of balance, good positioning and readiness to play. “We have to learn to practice, stay off the ground. We should be really efficient. We didn’t tackle today. We were just a thud tempo. We have to be more efficient in our practice. We ran over (time) today, as you all know. You were sitting here waiting on us. We have to be efficient.”

Perhaps it was the morning start time (around 10:15 a.m.). Or the cold temperatures (approximately 35 degrees at the beginning). Or the presence of a number of family members, who watched practice before joining their sons at the Caperton Indoor Facility for lunch and mingling with the staff. Whatever the reason, players weren’t ready to go according to their head coach.

“I just didn’t think we moved really well.,” said Brown,  starting a list of issues. “It was the first time we had them do anything in the morning. I thought we were sluggish during the meeting. We were sluggish during our walk-through periods, and I just didn’t think we moved around very well. Maybe, that has a little bit to do with going in the stadium. It was a little bit of a different routine from the first two days (when the Mountaineers used the practice field), but I just think we didn’t move around as well today like we did the previous two.”

Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning echoed that message, noting that attention and preparation for the day’s practice might have been a bit lacking. Sharing the fact that he had to tell one player to put away his phone during a meeting, the homespun veteran didn’t see it as a reason to panic, noting that it’s the norm for college students.

Brown, as he seemingly does for everything, has a plan for improvement.

“It’s no different from being in class,” he said of getting ready for practice, underscoring that it involves much more than just gearing up and walking out on the field. “When you are in the position meeting, you treat it like a classroom. You take notes, and you look at your notes. They have access. They have iPads. We have film available, usually about an hour after practice, and they can go back and watch all their clips. It’s really about studying, preparing and not repeating mistakes. I’m OK if they mess it up. I want to ‘fail up.’ I feel like failure allows you to grow, but you shouldn’t have repeated things, especially consecutively in practice or back-to-back days.”

Koenning, looking at tracking data that allows the staff to see when the players are on their devices studying their materials, noted that one player was doing so after 1 a.m.

“I’m going, ‘What are we doing here?’ It’s defeating the purpose,” said Koenning, while allowing that he had a couple of instances as a player himself where a late night was followed by an early morning practice. That, however, cuts no ice with the players he and the rest of the staff are trying to get ready. Such issues can be massive time wasters.

Still, these are all lessons that the new staff must impart, and the players take to heart, as they build a program in a very different manner from the previous staff. There are going to be many such bumps and hiccups along the way, and opportunities to learn. On this day, it was preparation for practice.

“I think we have to do a better job preparing for practices. This was the third straight day of install, and I thought it showed. We have to do a better job as coaches, getting them ready, and the players have to do a better job on their own of getting ready,” Brown summed up. “I still liked our energy. I liked our enthusiasm.”

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