(Neal Brown press conference)
(Photo gallery by Teran Malone)
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The opening week of preseason training camp for the WVU football team closed Saturday afternoon with autographs, photos and a light practice inside Milan Puskar Stadium. Following the annual Fan Day activities, the Mountaineers practiced in “shells” in their final workout before a fully-padded practice awaits Monday.
Head coach Neal Brown says physicality will increase throughout camp leading up to the season opener at Penn State on September 2. This marks a slight change in approach from last August when Brown thought the Mountaineers were not at their peak defensively in the first two games.
“We are probably going to err on the side of being more physical. We didn’t do that a year ago and I think it hurt us early in the year. We didn’t tackle very well against Pitt. Our tackling against Kansas was atrocious. We didn’t have a really deep team last year. We probably weren’t as physical during camp. It showed in our play,” Brown said.
“The common notion is that you just gradually climb until you get to your peak performance. That’s really not the way it goes. You kind of go up, you come down, you come up and you come down. You eventually get all the way, hopefully, where you can run your fastest and you have your most energy when you hit Week 1. So do to that, you are in intervals a little bit.”
WVU’s preseason depth chart features the word “or” several times, which is not uncommon. Brown says competition for spots extends beyond just the starting 22.
“There’s several jobs that are open. And there’s a lot of backup jobs and there’s a lot of jobs on special teams that are open. There’s a lot of travel roster spots. Most of those decisions will be made the Sunday and Monday after the second scrimmage. Some of them could go longer. You want to give everyone two live situations.
“The other thing too is you have to keep hope alive. There’s certain guys we know are probably not necessarily going to be able to help us this year. But they are key down the road.”
Offensive line depth chart comes into focus
All indications are that both starting offensive tackle spots will be locked down by Spring Valley High School graduates. Junior Wyatt Milum is the returning starter at left tackle. After playing at various spots across the line in the spring, Brown says redshirt senior Doug Nester will be the bookend on the opposite side of the line.
“That’s the best fit for him. We kind of worked him at center, guard and tackle. And he is still getting reps at all three spots. But that’s where we anticipate him playing when we play Week 1, is at right tackle.”
(Sights and sounds from Saturday’s practice)
Laurel Highlands High School graduate Rodney Gallagher is one of the most high-profile recruits to sign with WVU in the Neal Brown era. The slot receiver enrolled at the start of the summer workouts and has bulked up quickly.
“Rodney has put on about 12-14 pounds since he has been here, which has given him an opportunity to compete. And he has blocked probably a lot better than I anticipated early on because he has never had to. He played quarterback so he never had to block. He has been more physical. He has made a couple of contested catches over the middle. I don’t think surprised is the right word but I have been pleased with those two aspects.”
Running back Jahiem White immediately caught the attention of the coaches with solid performances in spring practice. Brown says that White remains an option to contribute in a crowded backfield.
“Jahiem probably came on the last two weeks of spring practice. He plays at a different gear than our other running backs. I don’t mean that he is superior. That’s not what I mean. He is just quicker and his running style is much different than the other guys we have in the backfield. He is versatile. He catches the ball. He is really sudden.
“I felt that coming out of the spring that he would play. He hasn’t done anything but help himself over the summer and through our first four practices.”
New friends arriving soon
Another surge in membership has led to stability in the Big 12 Conference after a massive earthquake in conference realignment on Friday. Arizona, Arizona State and Utah joined Colorado as new league members to join in time for the 2024-2025 season.
Brown is pleased with the latest additions, combined with the new entries of BYU, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston.
“I have been really impressed with Commissioner [Brett] Yormark since he took over. I think he has been aggressive. And I don’t think enough credit goes to Commissioner [Bob] Bowlsby too. I thought that the conference, by his leadership reacted really quickly and we added four really good football programs to the Big 12 when Texas and Oklahoma initially left. And Commissioner Yormark has had a plan from the beginning.”