Football, Sports, WVU Sports

Notebook: 1st scrimmage a milestone as WVU assistants begin to sort out position battles

MORGANTOWN — WVU football will hold its first scrimmage of fall camp Saturday evening inside Milan Puskar Stadium. Although the scrimmage will be closed to the media with no press conferences afterward, assistant coaches described Friday what they’ll be looking for.

“It’s playing football,” quarterbacks coach Sean Reagan plainly said Friday. “In practice, you’ve got those drills, well in a scrimmage when you play a quarter, all of those can come up in an instance.” 

The starting quarterback battle is one of several position battles that will begin to take shape on Saturday.

“What I’m looking for is, is the quarterback understanding that situation when it’s not told to you before the period begins,” Reagan explained. “We did a first quarter the other day and there was a lot of good teaching in that. What I’m looking for Saturday is can they take that teaching and put it into the scrimmage. If they can, then we’ll be right where they need to be.”

The two quarterbacks jockeying for the starting job, junior Garrett Greene and redshirt-freshman Nicco Marchiol, each played last season. Greene started two games while Marchiol played as an injury replacement in the season finale.

“There’s no way it hurts,” Reagan said of their playing experience in 2022. “That experience is going to go a long way with (Greene’s) development, he’s been in the fire. Even with Nicco, the two and a half quarters he got to play versus Oklahoma State is priceless for him.”

Saturday’s scrimmage will provide more live reps for the young signal-callers and Reagan will be watching closely for how they handle it.

“I am looking for a 90% grade or high on all decision-making,” Reagan said. “That’s run reads, RPOs and pass game. Is that completion percentage, no, but I want them to be 90% or higher on decision-making on what they’re supposed to do with the football.” 

Reagan estimated the quarterback group has been hovering around 86% on decision-making this fall so Greene and Marchiol getting to 90% is doable.

“If we can get to that point, then we’re going to be just fine,” he said.

Inside Linebacker

There is no doubt Lee Kpogba will be WVU’s mike linebacker, but the other inside spot, will, is a question mark at the moment.

“(We’re) preparing them for (Saturday) night when we scrimmage,” linebackers coach and special teams coordinator Jeff Koonz said Friday. “We’ve had a lot of live opportunities to get evaluations, but we’ve been gearing everything towards this second week where we have to start making decisions.”

Koonz said there are five players competing for the starting will linebacker position, Jairo Faverus, Trey Lathan, Tirek Austin-Cave, Caden Biser and Ben Cutter. Faverus is making the transition from defensive back to linebacker, Lathan redshirted last season, Austin-Cave if a former Miami transfer, Biser is in his third season and Cutter is a true freshman.

“Above everything else, it’s going to be effort and physicality,” Koonz said. “Effort and physicality is going to be what decides it. We’ve got to have guys that play within the defense, they’ve got to do their job but at the end of the day, if they’re not playing physical and they’re not playing with relentless effort, they’re not going to play.”

Special Teams

Another important area of evaluation in Saturday’s scrimmage will be special teams. Like with the quarterbacks, coaches run special teams drills in practice, but the scrimmage will be the chance to see live reps.

“In this (scrimmage) we’ll be able to put guys where it’s the first (team) on the opposite side rather than the young guys that are giving us a look to teach,” Koonz said. “We’re going to put some of our punt block guys out there and now they’re going to have to protect against some of our guys and they’re going to have to cover the punt against guys that are trained.”

Koonz said he confers with other position coaches about which players to use on certain units — punt block, punt protection, kickoff coverage, etc.

“This scrimmage will be huge for our evaluation of a lot of guys,” he said. “And we’re going to put some young guys who have shown up, these are the situations we can put them in.”

Long Snapper 

Long snapper Austin Brinkman was named to the watch list for the Patrick Mannelly Award, given to the nation’s top long snapper, earlier this offseason. As the junior enters his third season as the Mountaineers’ primary snapper, how much better can he truly get?

“Everybody talks about location and velocity,” Koonz began. “How fast is the ball getting back there and where is he hitting? The thing that he’s done a great job of is what he’s able to do to lead (punter Oliver Straw).” 

Straw, the team’s sophomore punter, will be asked to do more with his punts this season, including moving around and changing the launch point. Brinkman’s proficiency with snapping helps with that.

“It’s like a quarterback leading a receiver on an out route knowing that the defensive back is on the inside and he’s got to lead him to the outside,” Koonz said. “It’s no different, (Brinkman) knows where the punt is going and where he can put the ball wherever (Straw) is going. To understand that is elite for him and his velocity is already at an elite level.”

As a long snapper, anonymity is Brinkman’s friend, he’ll only be noticed if something goes wrong.

If this is the only time Brinkman’s name makes the paper this year, he’s probably going to have a pretty good season, and maybe he’ll win an award.