Mountaineers Spring Preview: Team Focus

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The Mountaineers’ Team Focus This Spring

At this time last year, the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic abruptly halted West Virginia Mountaineers’ Spring session. This year, however, we anticipate a full session culminating in the Spring Game on April 24. However, According to head coach Neal Brown, camp will start a week or two later than usual to give players affected by a February outbreak time to complete their winter conditioning. Nonetheless, Spring camp will begin soon. Before it does, we begin our Mountaineers Spring preview series with a look at the team’s focal points heading into camp. We will then continue our Mountaineers Spring preview series by looking at each position group.

Spring Preview: Fielding New Competitors

Last season, several promising freshmen entered the program with hopes of making an immediate impact. Hindered by the lack of Spring camp as well as a truncated and unusual Summer camp, these players stuck with the team’s developmental program. Other players saw a few odd snaps during the season but had minimal impact. Coach Brown expects several players to compete in earnest for meaningful spots in the rotation.

While West Virginia returns plenty of production on a highly-productive defensive unit, they will always welcome more players. Brown expects that Lanell Carr, Taurus Simmons, and James Thomas will contribute to the program this season. All three continue to post strong efforts in the Winter program. We may see one or more of them rotate between the defensive line and bandit positions, places where the Mountaineers could use added production.

In the secondary, Brown looks for Jackie Matthews and Daryl Porter, Jr., to make a jump in the secondary. Fortunately, both players have the skills needed to contribute at a position of need–cornerback–after the unexpected transfer of Dreshun Miller.

Offensively, we expect Jordan White to contribute for an overhauled offensive line. Brown told media last week that White “had a really good offseason” and is “ready to be a factor.” Behind them, we expect Tony Mathis and A’varius Sparrow to see plenty of reps and prove they can contribute at running back. On the outside, we expect that Sam Brown will also take a big step forward and offer consistent production.

Retooling Existing Talent

Other significant contributors will also see their roles expand, especially on defense. Tykee Smith, for example, can be expected to play more in a deep safety role, which will demand more of his skillset. Demonstrating versatility will certainly help Smith take the next step in his progression towards his NFL goals. But Coach Brown also has good reason for the shift. Brown said he needs to “make sure his best players are on the field.” Right now, West Virginia has an abundance of experienced talent in its safety room. As a result, Brown says he “needs more flexibility to play for defensive backs.” Letting Smith grow into an expanded role will certainly increase that flexibility.

Brown must also deal with the loss of Darius Stills, whom we featured here, and the unexpected transfer of Quay Mays, who was expected to compete for the starting defensive tackle position. Absent any incoming transfers, the Mountaineers have only three scholarship players at the position. Jordan Jefferson offers the most experience, and Jalen Thornton offers depth. Incoming freshman Edward Vesterinen will also be given opportunities. But Brown also wants to see standout freshman Akheem Mesidor learn to play both inside and outside, giving the defensive line more flexibility.

Sharpening The Focus

Ultimately, Brown wants his team to focus on three things this Spring. First, he wants the team to focus on adding strength, especially on the front lines. Mike Joseph and the strength and conditioning team has been hard at work on this. That said, Brown wants to see more physicality up front. While it improved last year, he points to the fact that the Mountaineers still got beat plenty in one-on-ones up front. Some of the added depth and veteran experience will certainly help. That said, we anticipate this being a constant theme as we move through our Mountaineers Spring preview series.

Next, Brown wants the team to focus on discipline and detail, “especially when adversity hits.” As we look back at our game notes and recaps, this is certainly a proper point of emphasis. Last season, we wrote repeatedly that West Virginia throttled its own efforts by mental mistakes leading to penalties, dropped balls, and missed opportunities. Some of things prove difficult to correct in-season, especially with the format the team used to minimize the impact of COVID. We expect heavy focus on these issues during Spring camp.

Finally, Brown says his team will focus on mental toughness. In some ways, this point of emphasis relates closely to a focus on discipline. Ultimately, though, Brown wants to ensure the team gives its “best when our best is required.” As we wrote in several game recaps, the mistakes seemed to magnify at the most inopportune moments. As a result, focus on discipline alone leaves the outcome unaddressed. They must also show discipline and toughness at critical junctures. Brown remains intent on improving that metric.