MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Before he can forge ahead with his football team, Neal Brown has had to reflect on the shortcomings of the past.
The head coach has admitted on a number of occasions that his team did not play well enough last fall, en route to a 5-7 overall record, the program’s third losing season under his leadership.
“That’s not something that we’ve been hiding from,” he said Monday while previewing his team’s spring season. “We kind of confronted that.”
As he and his staff continue to build a foundation for next season, they’re planning to use the spring to “reset.” Brown said that discovering his team’s identity is his primary objective for the spring.
“When things don’t go the way you want them to go, you don’t have the results you want, I think you reset, and so, that’s kind of where we’re at, and we really think, from an identity standpoint, we have to establish that,” Brown said.
So, what exactly is he seeking in terms of an identity, and could the team’s on-the-field product change accordingly? The head coach dove into those questions Monday:
On finding an identity
Brown highlighted four points of emphasis for the spring that will contribute to the team’s identity: discipline, strain, physicality and smart.
He said physicality often carries a negative connotation in football, but that’s not really how he means it in this case.
“We gotta get our alignments, our assignments, gotta be better conditioned,” he said.
Strain and physicality are a little easier to define: Brown wants his players to compete with “extreme effort,” and he wants them to focus on improving their blocking and tackling.
Being smart, Brown said, revolves around how the Mountaineers perform in key situations, like on third downs or in goal-to-go situations.
“We’re putting a focus on situational football and being better in certain situations,” Brown said.
In the past, Brown has said he admires this time of year due to the emphasis on teaching and competition.
He hopes his players will be fired up to compete beginning Tuesday when the team holds its first practice of the spring.
“The guys that are in the program right now have 15 practices, and then everybody that joins our program after spring, whether it’s May or sometime in the summer, they’ll have the first 14 practices in fall camp to show they’re ready to play,” Brown said.
The head coach added that he wants to focus on fundamentals and personnel evaluation over the next four weeks.
The highest profile competition on the roster is arguably the one at quarterback. Brown confirmed Monday that junior Garrett Greene and redshirt freshman Nicco Marchiol will split reps during the spring.
New look on the field?
If the Mountaineers establish a new identity, will it be visible in a different style on gamedays?
Brown thinks the Mountaineers will be “different” in 2023, but isn’t ready to explain how.
“I’d be a fool to sit up here and talk about that,” Brown said.
But several indicators point to the Mountaineers leaning on their rushing attack more frequently next season. They return all six of their top rushers from last fall, they feature two dynamic quarterbacks in Greene and Marchiol, they return a veteran group on the offensive line and their running backs coach was promoted to offensive coordinator in January.
“Schematically, we return our offensive line and we’ve got a really good running back room,” he said. “From an offensive perspective, you gotta use the pieces that you have, and we think we have some really good pieces.”
WVU’s first spring practice is set for Tuesday.