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

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WVU Football players CJ Donaldson, Traylon Ray, Jaylen Anderson at spring practice
Ed Thompson / WVSN

The WVU spring practice session is only a week old at this point, but it’s already clear the 2024 Mountaineers are coming together and taking shape. It’s also evident the overall vibe around the players and coaches is different from where it was one year ago.

Here are my takeaways from what I’ve seen and heard around the West Virginia team so far this spring.

A Different Vibe Around WVU

Head coach Neal Brown and quarterback Garrett 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 Jaden Bray, Reid 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.

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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.

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But about what’s happened at practice?

Even though the vibe and atmosphere around the team is better, everything will still come down to how the Mountaineers actually play when it counts. It’s tough to evaluate a team before they put pads on, but there’s still been plenty observe.

Offensively, Ray appears to be bigger, and in a good way. The sophomore looks poised to take his game to another level after a breakout freshman season. Brown classified Rodney Gallagher as someone in a more “fluid” situation body wise, but did say he plans to involve the four-star recruit more in the offense moving forward after mostly being used on special teams and in gadgets plays last fall.

Keeping with the receiver theme, Brown was strong with his praise of Clement. He even went as far as saying no skilled player has had a better offseason than Clement.

Of course, Brown is talking about Clement getting his body in exceptional shape and being physically at a completely different level from where he was one year ago. Brown’s comments about Clement’s physique will only further intensify the expectations for him in 2024.

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For a newcomer, Bray, who is being cast into the leadership role Devin Carter left behind, is a physical presence and already acting as a mentor to the younger receivers.

“He’s a natural ball catcher. He’s a really good football player,” said Brown about Bray.

Defensively, 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.

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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.

Another thing to note is Brown did conform the pressure on Jaylen Anderson this year. When asked if this is Anderson’s last chance, Brown agreed and then elaborated that the talent is there with him, but he needs to be at his best on a consistent basis to continue warranting touches, especially with White entrenched as a top back and Donaldson still around.

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