MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Four practices are now in the books. West Virginia football players have completed their first week of fall camp, which got underway on Wednesday.
Head coach Neal Brown said Saturday’s practice inside the stadium was lighter compared to the first three. Saturday’s practice was also held in front of fans — and, as Brown said, maybe a few eyeballs from the first three opponents of the season.
The fifth-year head coach met with the media after practice. Here are some of the biggest takeaways.
Thoughts on latest Big 12 additions
The conference realignment train picked up steam again on Friday, as the Big 12 Conference approved the additions of Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah to the league at the start of the 2024-2025 academic year.
Brown didn’t offer any specifics on the individual teams that were added. Though, he continued to voice his praise for Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark.
“I’ve been really impressed with Commissioner Yormark since he took over. I think he’s been aggressive,” said Brown. “Commissioner Yormark’s had a plan since the beginning. And now, we’re sitting at 16 teams, and I think that for the last several months we’ve been [in] a position of power.”
Brown did note that he has been to Tuscon (home of the University of Arizona) before. He added he hopes WVU gets to play there in November, when it’s cooler.
West Virginia played in Pheonix, the same city Arizona State is located in, two years ago in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.
Early analysis of the WR position
Brown gave some quick thoughts on several players in the wide receiver room.
- EJ Horton (junior): “Had a nice day today. That was his best day.”
- Devin Carter (redshirt senior): “Devin Carter is the most experienced there, and he’s been the most productive through the spring, and then up until now in fall camp.
- Cortez Braham (senior): “Been practicing the last two days. I thought he competed at a high level in the spring.”
- Preston Fox (redshirt sophomore): “Preston Fox continues to be productive. He’s going to play. We’ve talked about Preston a lot. He hadn’t played a ton, but he’s going to play this year.”
- Rodney Gallagher III (freshman): “[He’s] had two good days in a row.”
WVU’s head coach named a few other wideouts, furthering his point of the depth he feels he has at the position. In fact, he stated there is better competition for playing time this year in fall camp than this time last year.
With that group specifically, though, Brown is holding much of his judgment until the team ramps up the amount of contact and tackling next week.
Upping the physicality in practice
A qualm that all teams and all coaches have to wrestle with this time of year is finding the balance of just how physical they will be in practice. The more physical a team is early in fall camp, the more the players will be ready for the physicality opponents will bring. The easier or less aggressive a team goes, the healthier it is believed they will be entering the season.
At least, that’s the hope, anyways. Brown and West Virginia are taking a more physical approach this fall.
“We’re 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,” said Brown. “We didn’t tackle very well against Pitt. Our tackling against Kansas was atrocious.”
In Brown’s eyes, WVU wasn’t as physical during fall camp in 2022, due to the team’s lack of depth overall. However, he believes that showed throughout last season.
That has changed since the start of winter drills in January, continued into the spring, and is still being emphasized now that fall camp has arrived.
Thoughts on Fan Day
Along with practice, Saturday was also WVU Football Fan Day at Milan Puskar Stadium. Hundreds of fans lined the concourse inside Mountaineer Field to get some autographs and pictures with the 2023 Mountaineer football team.
“A lot of young people, and that’s why we have it. The interaction with our players and the young people,” said Brown. “I think it’s really important.”
Along with young fans, who may not be old enough to remember the first WVU game they attended, Brown also spoke with multiple multi-generation Mountaineer fans.
“They really identify with West Virginia, because West Virginia [University] represents the state, it represents the school they went to,” said Brown. “And I think there’s a lot more of that in college athletics.”