Asti: Neal Brown Filled WVU’s Needs for Offense in Transfer Portal
The pressure on Neal Brown is undeniable, and for good reason, but after the 2022 season ended he knew two things were true.
Brown knew he can’t change the past. No excuse or reasoning will make a 5-7 season and a 22-25 overall record in four years as WVU’s head coach any better. And Brown also knew he had to do everything in his power to improve the roster as much as possible before the ball kicks off in State College against Penn State. To the surprise of some, the 2023 offseason has been one with more talent coming to Morgantown than leaving.
So now with summer fast approaching and still months away from the start of the new season, it’s time to evaluate how Brown has performed in terms of working the Transfer Portal in his favor this year.
Poll: What Grade Would You Give WVU Football in Terms of Adding Transfer Players?
WVU Has a New Group of Receivers
At the begging of spring ball, Brown was open about what positions were still a focus when looking at transfer players. This was after already having added a few key transfers like Devin Carter, Kole Taylor and Michael Hayes. But one portion stood out more than any other – wide receiver.
When almost all of your production from a position departs the program, either by transferring or to pursue the NFL, you are forced to go and replacements that can fill that void immediately. Carter was brought in with the plan to replace his childhood friend Bryce Ford-Wheaton as the new number one. West Virginia will need him to increase the numbers he put up at North Carolina State, but he’s shown flashes that he can be that guy and has been a leader for the rest of the receivers so far. Adding Carter was a win for Brown, even if Ford-Wheaton may deserve an assist.
Carter being a top guy is a necessity. If he doesn’t produce, nothing else will matter as far as WVU’s passing game. But with that said, the rest of the group will be important too and is now full of size and speed. Noah Massey’s 6-foot-4, 300-pound frame will be difficult for defends to deal with. Ja’Shaun Poke has the speed that could make him an option in the return game for special teams too. EJ Horton could be a solid threat. Brown still has offers out to others as well, but based on what he needed to find and what was reasonably available to WVU, it’s tough to say he didn’t find most of what he needed. There’s also a belief Cortez Braham could step up with more opportunities.
Kole Taylor Could be Difference Maker
Brown has expressed a willingness to change his philosophy somewhat. He’s now open to utilizing the tight end position In the passing game. In comes Taylor. Brown has been quoted saying Taylor is “open by birth” and that’s probably the best and easiest way to describe the former LSU Tiger. Taylor had other options, but choose to come to WVU and the Big 12 due to a trust in Brown and his word. Taylor also knows he’s going to force Brown to use him as a receiver threat far more than Mike O’Laughlin or any other past tight end was used. He’s hungry to prove he can be a threat and give much more than he was allowed to offer at LSU.
WVU TE Kole Taylor Believes He’s Forcing Mountaineers to Use Him in Offense
Having Taylor provides security for whichever young quarterback ends up starting, especially as someone who can move the chains, extend yards and be a great option in the red zone or goal line territory. Taylor may become his quarterback’s best friend and could end up being the best transfer addition of all.
While WVU did have to watch one committed transfer receiver flip to Colorado and did lose Tony Mathis, the most experienced member and leader of the offense, Brown did what he had to in the portal. Mathis’ departure may not even be felt on the field if CJ Donaldson can stay healthy and the depth of the running game shows itself again.
It All Comes Down to the QB
Regardless of what any new player may bring, the success of the offense, and likely the success of West Virginia’s season overall, will undoubtedly come down to how whoever wins the quarterback battle between Garrett Greene or Nicco Marchiol plays under center.
It made sense for Brown to forgo looking for another veteran transfer quarterback after the JT Daniels experiment crashed and burned, but his WVU legacy now comes down to making the right decision about who to hand the ball in Week 1. That’s really what it all comes down to for Brown if he hopes to still be leading the Mountaineers in 2024.