MORGANTOWN — West Virginia had its first of two fall scrimmages inside Milan Puskar Stadium Saturday. The scrimmage was closed to the public and the media, but head coach Neal Brown gave his thoughts on how individual positions performed following the team’s practice Monday morning.
“Overall, we did a good job of getting lined up,” Brown said of the Mountaineer defense. “My biggest things have been alignment, physicality and getting to the ball. I thought our alignments were pretty solid overall. I would say we’re almost there as far as getting to the ball but we’re not quite where we need to be. We’re being pretty physical, when we go into tackle situations, we’ve got to do a good job of running our feet.”
Below is a breakdown of how each position group performed on Saturday:
“I think our D-line is doing better, we’re a group that’s going to be by committee,” Brown said. “Maybe we don’t have a guy like Dante (Stills) who’s sticking out right now, but we’re deeper than we have been. We’re going to play nine to 11 guys up there, but when they’re in there for their three or five plays, they’ve got to be playing with pad level, they’ve got to be striking with their hands.”
“Linebacker is a work in progress, that’s a position we’re putting a lot of pressure on,” Brown said. “Every practice that I’m making, I’m asking how can I stress our defense at linebacker where they have to communicate.”
Saturday’s scrimmage was an important step in the battle at will linebacker, where players were able to get their first live action of the fall. Redshirt-freshman Trey Lathan stood out the most among the group competing for the starting job.
“Trey Lathan had a great day (Monday) and made a big step on Saturday, too,” Brown said. “That’s what we’re looking for. He needs repetitions — I thought he had a really nice day Saturday and he might have had the best day of anybody out there (Monday).”
At safety, returner Aubrey Burks and transfer Anthony Wilson continue to impress coaches, while the top group of five cornerbacks take turns making splash plays.
“On Saturday, (Andrew Wilson-Lamp) and Beanie (Bishop) both made some great plays,” Brown said. “Anthony Wilson is showing up; he’s been a position addition.”
The battle between Garrett Greene and Nicco Marchiol wages on and it does not seem like Saturday provided much separation.
“Nicco had a really good two-minute drive at the end of the scrimmage,” Brown said. “(He) struggled with some decision-making early.
“I thought Garrett was pretty solid. He ran around and made a couple of scramble plays, but really just very solid in his decision-making.”
“Jaylen Anderson had a really good day, was productive,” Brown said. “He’s a guy that we need, we’ve just got to get him into shape. He’s got to be able to play continuous plays, but he’s talented.”
“We took it easy on CJ (Donaldson). Justin (Johnson) has been probably our most consistent at that position during fall camp.”
The returning trio of CJ Donaldson, Jaylen Anderson and Justin Johnson will be the team’s primary running backs, but true freshman Jaheim White continues to work his way into the conversation.
“Jahiem White was good; he was better without the ball,” Brown said. “That’s what you worry about with running backs early in their career, can they play away from the ball? When the ball’s not in their hands, can they lead-block, can they pass-protect, can they run routes, and I thought he did a better job.”
“We focused more on the run game — we didn’t throw it a ton in the scrimmage just because we wanted to set the tone for our defense,” Brown said. “They did okay, but we didn’t put any stress on them in the pass game.”
Brown said there will not be much separation in the wide receiver room until after the team’s second scrimmage this Saturday.
“We’re trying to get some guys ready,” he explained. “There’s a group that is ready and there’s a group that I’m trying to get ready.”
In the first scrimmage, it was a trio of underclassmen who caught Brown’s eye.
“Freshman Treylan Ray was our leading receiver in the scrimmage,” he said. “From a freshman standpoint, he’s doing some good things and I think he’ll be in the mix for us. Preston (Fox) and Hudson Clement both had nice days.”
“The kickoff (coverage) team wasn’t as good — it was the first time Saturday we did 11-on-11 full cover, full blocking,” Brown said. “I thought our kickers had a nice day as far as getting it into the end zone and placing it. We’ve got to do a better job of arriving with ill intentions at the ball on kickoff.”
On the opposite side, Brown said Bishop had a nice return in the scrimmage.
“On punt return, Preston and Beanie each had a really nice return,” Brown said. “We’re growing in that; we made a big step last year in that unit and we’ve got to continue to grow there.”
Other standouts were backup punter Leighton Bechtel and transfer kicker Michael Hayes.