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Mike Asti’s WVU Football Spring Takeaways: Breakout Performers Boost Energy



WVU Football TE Coach Blaine Stewart with players Rodney Gallagher and Jaylen Anderson
Ed Thompson / WVSN

It may feel like WVU football spring practice session just started, but the Mountaineers are already about halfway through before another break in the offseason schedule. So with the annual Gold-Blue spring game coming up on April 27, it’s time to check back in with what’s been going on over the past few weeks.

Spring opened with both coaches and players excited to be back to work after a successful 2023, but the intensity and energy has now ramped up to another level. Even though they are still in shorts, pads are on and tackles are happening. The offense has competed against the defense in 11-on-11 battles.

Neal Brown, who often says he prefers 11-on-11 situations to end up as close calls as the head coach, revealed the offense did outmatch the defense on one day and the defense was in control the next. It did appear to be a closer matchup from that point on though.

Standout Players

As far as which players are standing out, there are several on each side of the ball. The usual suspects mentioned before of newcomer Jaden Bray, Hudson Clement and Traylon Ray are still making plays. Rodney Gallagher looks bigger, and having added the right kind of size needed for success at the college level. Gallagher also seems to be more comfortable in the system and has showed how he can make something out of nothing due to his athleticism. Route running is still something Gallagher must improve on before fully getting his game where has to be.

Mike Asti’s WVU Football Spring Takeaways: Team Coming Together, Chemistry Evident

Quarterback wise, Greene is still working on improving his accuracy. The conversation around Greene has moved to literally pointing out his lower completion percentage (52.9%) in 2023 and how the coaches, most notably Brown and quarterback coach Tyler Allen, want that number to more around 60 or above, a place most elite players usually achieve.

The Mountaineers will only go as far as Greene takes them in 2024, but it’s also possible they will be forced to turn to Nicco Marchiol at some point again this fall. If that is the case, Marchiol will be more prepared and ready for the moment. Marchiol was serviceable enough in 2023 to allow WVU to win without Greene, but he should be more dynamic if needed again.

Since Brown has talked so much about where Greene stands as a player, he was asked to describe what he’s seeing from Marchiol during the spring practices. Brown then took that question as an opportunity to praise the redshirt sophomore, labeling him as the most improved offensive player.

“I think it starts with his preparation, which sounds really simply, but he’s matured as a football player. So when he turns on the video, he knows what to watch. He knows how to prepare. He’s doing a really good job of asking for the scripts is he can be prepared going into each practice,” explained Brown about Marchiol stepping up preparation wise.

WVU Football QB Garrett Greene and Nicco Marchiol

Ed Thompson / WVSN

Being prepared is important, especially for a quarterback, but Marchiol is also showing signs of being more fundamentally sound as he enters his third overall year with the WVU program.

“I think from a fundamental standpoint, he’s much more compact right now and his confidence has risen, because he’s got a lot of repetitions. I always think that’s the base for your confidence because he’s got the repetitions now. But the game has slowed down, slowed down a lot. Pre-snap he has a better understanding of what defenses are trying to do to him. But I’ve been really pleased.”

Brown’s comments about Marchiol come a couple weeks after Allen offered his own assessment of the young quarterback.

Brandon Yates is settling in as the new starting center. With impossible shoes to fill, offensive line coach Matt Moore instructed Yates to not try to be Zach Frazier, but just himself. No one can replace the constant of Frazier, but Yates and Greene’s existing chemistry has been evident. The rest of the offensive line is still largely up in the air as far as players being named into roles, but players like Ja’Quay Hubbard will be relied upon even more this coming season.

WVU Football Offensive Line

Ed Thompson / WVSN

Defensively, it’s been more of the same with a boost in energy and physicality. While common to any football practice and not any concern, a couple scrums between teammates occurred during one of the practices moved indoors due to the weather.

Carrico is showing off the talent that made Ohio State interested in him out of high school and a desire to finally put his skills on display at the major conference level in college. Hollis, Joseph and even Ayden Garnes out of Duquesne are also fitting in nicely. Jackson also looks like he added muscle since the end of his final season at Troy, prompting Brown to predict “he’s going to be a factor for us” only a couple practices in.

For an incumbent veteran, Eddie Vesterinen is often being called out by the coaches as someone who can take another leap and become a leader on the defense.

A Notable Injury

On a negative note, cornerback Jacolby Spells suffered what’s being classified as an upper body injury. Brown announced Spells will miss the rest of spring and will likely be questionable for the start of fall camp as well. Without knowing the extent of any medical diagnosis or seeing the injury – it occurred on a day practice was not open to the media – Brown’s comments and somber tone make it sound serious. Brown expressed feeling bad for Spells, who was expected to finally take that jump many expected from him going into last season.

Also on the injury front, Donaldson is recovering from surgery, setting him back a bit as he hopes to rebound and get back his 2022 form. Taylor, who is officially listed as “limited” for the spring will be out of action in all actuality. Taylor just ran around the field in shorts during the practice the media was able to attend.

A Different Vibe Around WVU

Brown and Greene both talked about the intensity being ramped up this offseason. “It’s easier to go from five wins to nine than it is to go from nine wins to 10 or 11,” said Greene while speaking with the media for the first time in months. Unlike last spring when Brown was evaluating most key positions and Greene was part of a quarterback competition, West Virginia is blessed with most of the key contributors from 2023 still on the roster in 2024.

Retaining stars like Greene, Jahiem White, Kole Taylor, Hudson Clement, Traylon Ray, CJ Donaldson and then defensive leaders Aubrey Burks and Sean Martin allow the coaching staff to focus more on building on success rather than trying to fix everything with a brand new group. Adding veteran transfers like Bray, Carrico, Garnett Hollis, Jaheem Joseph, TJ Jackson and others to the mix turns the belief the Mountaineers can truly contend up a notch.

There’s also a sense the players enjoy being around each other and are connecting on and off the field. While this developed throughout last season, Burks admitted players are hanging out more away from the practice field than they did during the spring of 2023. He openly mentioned players being more about themselves as individuals in the past and now the culture has shifted to making sure the chemistry is there all of the time. This means instead of just players within position groups getting together and going to the movies etc., offensive players are bonding with defensive guys too.

WVU Football RB Jahiem White

Ed Thompson / WVSN

And maybe most importantly for the vibe, Brown seems to be more relaxed and having more fun. Brown came off stressed and well aware of the pressure he was under entering the 2023 season. He knew 2022 was unacceptable based on the standard expected out of the West Virginia Mountaineers. And while 2023 still had its hiccups, WVU finished with nine wins, capping off the year with a Duke’s Mayo Bowl victory. Both Brown and Greene have been open about feeling they should have won even more and were good enough to win 10 or 11 games, but 9-4 is still a big jump from 5-7. The improvement record-wise and a new contract extension has made Brown more relaxed, even so much he’s willing to have off-the-record conversations with media members on a personal level. With all of that said, Brown’s new contract did come with some concessions and adjustments that could actually make it easier for WVU director of athletics Wren Baker to fire him if the program reverts back to where it was.

Keep locked in with WV Sports Now for more coverage of the WVU football program.

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