On Saturday, West Virginia had its last dress rehearsal in terms of scrimmages before next week’s Gold-Blue game, and it was met with mostly positive reviews from head coach Neal Brown.
The team was divided into first, second and third teams on Saturday, with each unit getting work against the other and providing plenty of talking points afterward for Brown, who took to a Zoom media call to answer questions.
“Probably our last game-like run other than the snaps for the spring game, but I thought it was good,” Brown said. “Ones, twos and threes, everybody got a lot of reps.”
A few players sat out Saturday’s proceedings with minor injuries or illness, including safety Sean Mahone, cornerback Jackie Matthews, wideout Sean Ryan, tight end Charles Finley and linebacker Jairo Feverus.
Brown’s continued efforts to push the importance of special teams took precedence in his post-scrimmage comments on Saturday. In an effort to continue to spark motivation in that phase of the game, Brown and his staff have devised a competition during spring in which the team, other than offensive and defensive linemen, have broken into four squads, with points being earned throughout spring.
Fans will get a chance to see the conclusion of that competition during next Saturday’s spring game, but maybe more so than the eventual winner, the interest the contest has sparked roster-wide has been the most important result.
“We did a draft and we’ve been scoring,” Brown said. “We have a final competition in the spring game on Saturday, but those guys have really competed. From our leaders — Leddie Brown on offense and Josh Chandler(-Semedo) on defense — to the guys still trying to figure out how to get on the field.
“Today we did a three-on-three kickoff versus kickoff return competition. I’m pleased with the work we’re getting in and a high level of buy-in right now from our staff and players on special teams.”
Brown then transitioned to the WVU defense, which had a big Saturday as well, complete with a goal-line stand against the first-team offense. It’s still a thin unit, especially at linebacker and in the defensive backfield.
Player development continues to be a major goal of the spring, and that could help alleviate some of the team’s depth issues. Brown has also referred to possibly finding help in the transfer portal.
“Defensively I like where we’re at, but we’ve got to have some depth though,” Brown said. “We’ve got to create some depth either by developing the guys we have or going and getting some other ones.”
The players that are in camp compose a confident group, and why not? The Mountaineers finished fourth in the country in total defense a year ago, allowing just 291.4 yards per game.
Chandler-Semedo, who figures to be a vital leader this season at linebacker, also fielded questions post-scrimmage on Saturday. WVU’s defense is dealing with significant losses with defensive lineman Darius Stills and linebacker Tony Fields both preparing for the NFL draft and with defensive backs Dreshun Miller, Tykee Smith and David Vincent-Okoli all having transferred out of the program this year.
But after finding so much success last season, expectations haven’t changed, and Chandler-Semedo said complacency isn’t an option.
“We weren’t first,” Chandler-Semedo said. “That’s the mindset. We have the same hunger, the same mindset we already had, if not even more because we realize how close we were. If you take out a couple of plays against EKU we didn’t play good, the Iowa State game, the Texas game where we gave up a couple of run yards, things like that, we would be number one. Knowing we can point to the exact reasons why we weren’t number one and that goal is still out there — still hungry.”
Finally, offensively, Brown pointed to several players, including quarterbacks Jarret Doege and Garrett Greene, starting running back Leddie Brown and a number of the team’s deep wide-receiving corps as having a great Saturday.
“All three teams had no turnovers today, we put the ball on the ground a couple of times Thursday night so that was good,” Brown said. “I thought Doege was sharp, we got Leddie some touches — didn’t tackle to the ground but thought Leddie did some nice things in the passing game specifically. I thought Sam James had a couple of nice plays, Winston Wright continues to show up and do well and I think our first group of offensive line and tight ends, they’ve improved running the football.
“The twos, we let Garrett Greene go without a yellow jersey, he was live (full tackle) all day today. He had some big runs, which was a positive. He was able to come up with some broken plays, made some plays down the field, one big pass on a scramble and I thought Reese Smith had a nice day, had two touchdowns and really had a good day with the twos.”