Neal Brown Trying to Put All The Pieces In Their Proper Places For WVU

West Virginia quarterback Austin Kendall hands off to running back Alec Sinkfield
West Virginia quarterback Austin Kendall hands off to running back Alec Sinkfield

Neal Brown Trying to Put All The Pieces In Their Proper Places For WVU

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia football coach Neal Brown hasn’t always been pleased with his team’s performance in preseason camp, but on Wednesday, as the sessions start to wind down, WVU’s first-year mentor expressed more pleasure with recent work than he has at any other time this August.

“We had a good run at it today,” Brown said after the full-contact practice session earlier in the day inside Milan Puskar Stadium. “We had good energy. I think some guys are starting to make moves.

West Virginia wide receiver George Campbell
West Virginia wide receiver George Campbell

“In-season, coaches always talk about teams making their biggest improvements between week one and week two,” the former Troy coach said. “I kind of agree with that during the season, but I think your biggest improvement as a football team actually happens between your first scrimmage and your second scrimmage. So, we scrimmaged the first time on Saturday, and our second one is going to be Friday night under the lights. I think this is when we have to make our biggest improvement.

“Now coming up, this is going to be our biggest scrimmage of the year Friday night. It will decide who we’re going to play with and who we’re not going to play with. We’ll have a kicking scrimmage on Tuesday.”

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One area still somewhat in flux is the offensive line. Brown and his o-line coach Matt Moore continue to look for the best starting five.

That search led to some experimentation this week, Brown explained, which included moving Josh Sills, who has started at guard the past two seasons, over to center and inserting John Hughes, a sophomore who arrived at West Virginia from Navarro (Texas) College, at right guard.

“We’re trying to shuffle our o-line and get our best five players out there,” Brown noted. “We feel really good about four of those guys up front, and we have find our fifth (starter). We have to find five, then six and seven.

“We moved Sills around a bit starting Monday. I wasn’t really happy with what we got out of our center position in the scrimmage on Saturday, so we’re moving some people around. John Hughes is a guy who is making a move, so we’re trying to get him some more reps. Sills is a guy we feel is versatile and can play center, guard or tackle. Monday we moved him around and had some positive results, but today was kind of a mixed bag. I’ll have to watch the film.

“(Sills) played center as a sophomore in high school, so he can do it,” continued Brown. “He had a couple loose snaps today. I usually remember the bad plays, and I don’t remember any bad snaps from him on Monday, so that was good.”

Brown also noted that Adam Stilley, a 6-foot, 291-pound sophomore walk-on from Martinsburg, West Virginia, continues to perform well at center also.

“Stilley is a guy who every time we put him in a situation, he performs really well,” he said. “He know the offense probably as well as anyone.”

Brown wrapped up his offensive line comments by saying that the battle for the fifth and final starter will likely come down to either Chase Behrndt or John Hughes.

“We know who are top four guys are,” WVU’s coach concluded. “We have to figure out who our fifth guy is going to be. Who that fifth guy is will determine where those other four play.”

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Brown indicated that he would like to make a decision on his starting quarterback in the relatively near future, but he’s not yet ready to name the first-stringer from the trio of contenders – Trey Lowe, Austin Kendall and Jack Allison.

“The quarterback battle is still up in the air,” noted Brown. “All three of those guys did some good things today, but they also put us in some bad spots as far as taking sacks and turning the football over. We’ve got to get better with that.

“We hit a bunch of deep balls today, but we were inaccurate with some underneath stuff,” he added. “(During camp) we’ve had some success with downfield shots. All three of those guys throw the deep ball pretty well, and we have some length outside (in terms of tall receivers), but we have to get more accurate underneath.”

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Overall, Brown has seen positive growth in his club since the beginning of fall camp, but he also quickly noted there is lots of work still to do.

• “Offensively, we’ve got to be able to run the football better, and defensively we’ve got to keep the football in front of us better. Those are two important pieces coming from day.”

• “At receiver, I feel really good about our first group, but not necessarily about our twos. Our twos have to make plays.”

• “Defensively, I have a good feel for our two-deep on the d-line. We’re going to be versatile. We need a couple extras. We have to get up towards 10 guys who are ready to play.”

• “I like our first group of linebackers. I think our second group is coming along.”

• “Safety, every rep we get is going to be important between now and (the Aug. 31 opener against James Madison).”

• “I think the older corners (Hakeem Bailey and Keith Washington) have played well. We need the younger guys – the (Tae) Mayos and the (Nicktroy) Fortunes – to keep coming, because we’re going to need those guys.”

• “We’re in pretty good shape (in terms of injuries). We have a couple guys with shoulders who, if this were a game, they could probably play, but since it’s practice, they’re limited.”

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Brown likes what he sees out of Josh Growden, the grad transfer punter from LSU who just arrived at West Virginia on Friday.

“He hit some balls. He’s the real deal,” WVU’s coach said with a smile after watching the left-footer from Australia on Wednesday. “He has to get accustomed to how we do things, but he’s really talented. He’s eager, and he’s fun to be around. He’s as good at kicking the ball inside the 10 as anyone I’ve been around.

“It’s difficult to catch a left-footed punter unless you have one on your team. The trajectory of the ball is different.

“The other thing is he was a three-year starting holder at LSU, so that’s kind of solidified that spot as well. We didn’t have anyone on the roster who had held in a game before.”

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The Mountaineers will continue in a camp mode until the start of classes at WVU next Wednesday. At that point West Virginia’s football team will transition into its normal school-year practice schedule.

“I like the fact that our guys are eager to practice,” Brown said. “We have a good mentality. I haven’t had to jumpstart them the last two days. I told it’s bring your own juice, and they had really good practices.”

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