Mountaineers Excited to Start Camp

wvu secures guaranteed rate bowl

Mountaineers Excited to Start Camp

Well, it is official. The 2021 season is truly just around the corner. In less than a month (three-and-a-half weeks), West Virginia will take to the road to battle Maryland in the season opener. Last Friday, Head Coach Neal Brown started pre-season practice with his squad. Fans are ready. Coaches are ready. Recruiting momentum continues to build in WVU’s favor. Leaders are emerging, and the team continues building depth. As a result, we see a squad of Mountaineers excited to start camp.

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Full Camp Mode

According to Brown, the Mountaineers remain in “camp mode” until August 24. After that, they will switch over the game preparation. For now, though, pre-season camp is in full swing. As they did last year, the West Virginia staff basically runs split-squad practices in these early weeks. The goal is two-fold. First, WVU still needs to do its best to keep its players healthy and isolate position groups to avoid COVID outbreaks. Second, as the coaches said on Saturday, they need to bring the younger players along. As Brown said, “you learn by doing,” and the best way to promote that is to give more players meaningful reps.

As a result, we have already heard plenty of early talk about a lot of new faces. The coaches also talked up the team’s veteran leadership. Brown said that the leadership has been better than since he arrived, but he attributed it more to the veterans “being more familiar with our expectations” than to poor leadership in years past.

By all accounts, the team as a whole looks stronger and has the “look of a Big 12 team.” From everything we saw at Fan Day on Saturday, we agree. The pads are not on yet, but the bodies on the offensive and defensive line, in particular, look bigger and more athletic than we have seen for years.

Injuries and Absences

So far, the team only faces minimal injuries. Mike O’Laughlin is dealing with an undisclosed but minor injury. Brown assured the media that he was being held out for precautionary reasons more than anything else. Ja’Corey Hammett continues to deal with an ACL injury that occurred during his senior season. Finally, Naim Muhammad remains out while recovering from off-season surgery.

While the staff seemed optimistic that true freshman Jaylen Anderson would be in town for the start of camp, he has not yet arrived. Brown identified “clearinghouse things going on” as the reason for his delay. The staff, however, remains optimistic that Anderson will join the team soon. He is a player they remain excited about.

Finally, offensive lineman James Gmiter has been missing from practices so far, and the staff has not given a reason. They did say that his absence was not related to injury or illness. It could be family or personal issues, but, again, no explanation has been offered to date.

Evaluating the Transfers

Coach Brown offers his comments on the transfers that have joined the program since last season.

First, Doug Nester‘s confidence has improved. According to Brown, Nester really wanted to earn his spot on the team, and he looks much better now than he did last Spring. Nester looks to start at guard, opposite Gmiter (pending any news about his absence) or Jordan White.

Second, Lance Dixon still has to learn the finer points of WVU’s defensive scheme. That said, he is athletically gifted. He should challenge Exree Loe at the Will linebacker slot.

Next, Charles Woods is a quick learner who loves the game of football. Brown said Woods has a great “workmanlike attitude,” and, given the blue-collar mentality Brown instills in his team, having Woods is certainly a benefit. In fact, Woods nabbed an interception on Fan Day.

Then, Brown described Deshawn Stevens as a proven player. Stevens was brought in to challenge Josh Chandler-Semedo at Mike linebacker. Given Chandler-Semedo’s early career, that Stevens’ challenging him is even a thought that speaks volumes about Stevens’ potential. He definitely stands out among the position in lineups.

Fourth, Brown focused on Darel Middleton. Brown says Middleton is a lot leaner than he played last season for Tennessee. Middleton should earn reps as an edge rusher, but he has only been in Morgantown for two weeks. Like Stevens, Middleton definitely stands out among the position group.

Finally, Brown discussed Caleb Coleman. Coleman, he says, can play both Spear and safety. The staff is really excited about the flexibility he adds to the defense.

Answering The Questions

As we wrote a few weeks ago, West Virginia has several question marks going into this season. As we see the Mountaineers excited to start camp, we are anxious to see how the team starts answering those questions.

Jarret Doege‘s performance on Saturday showed improved ball placement, particularly on a few routes he struggled with last season. Like several others, Doege really changed his body in the offseason. He looks a lot tougher, and Brown commented specifically on this on Friday. So far, we are encouraged enough to think that maybe Coach Brown was right. Maybe Doege did take a few leaps forward this offseason. That said, it is easier to make throws in low-pressure situations. The real question is whether he can face down pressure better than he did at times last season.

Defensively, we see enough bodies competing across the board to be encouraged. The defensive line might be a bit more shallow than we would prefer, but the staff is giving the young players plenty of reps to earn some playing time this season. After all, Brown does not expect his team to sail through the season unaffected by injury.

The offensive line certainly looks the part. Brown said they are still a few bodies short, but they expect to be at full strength thereafter one more recruiting class. This is a far cry from where the group was two years ago. If they play as well as they can, fans will certainly be happy with the result.