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Neal Brown Likes Progression of Defense, Knows There’s Still Room to Grow



WVU Football HC Neal Brown

WVU head coach Neal Brown wants the main focus for his defense while in preparation for the 2023 season to be getting back to the basics.

This could come in many forms, as the Mountaineers will likely be searching for any sort of answer after multiple subpar defensive performances led to West Virginia posting a 5-7 record and missing out on a bowl game appearance.

Brown said his defense is taking the right steps toward progression so far this spring, giving multiple positive indications for the Mountaineers, starting at the defensive line and carrying back into the secondary.

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“We’re on the right track,” Brown said following West Virginia’s seventh spring practice this past weekend. “We’re going a lot better staying in our gaps, and that comes down to pad level and using your hands.

“Linebacker wise, we have way less wasted movement. They’re getting downhill, where they’re more decisive. This has taken a lot of our secondary. They’re playing faster because they’re thinking less, and the technique is improving.”

Brown gave an extra nod to his defensive line, saying the group turned in their best performance of the spring.

The Mountaineers are attempting to find a new workhorse on the line following Dante Stills’ departure to the NFL. Many have identified edge rusher Sean Martin as the new anchor for the defensive line following a breakthrough performance in 2022.

The 6-foot-5, 293 pounder totaled 34 tackles, four sacks and a forced fumble in eight starts.

“Sean Martin has showed some flashes of what he can be, which is a great run defender,” Brown said. “He’s a guy that can apply some pressure in the passing game with speed and length.”

Martin and the rest of the defense have been keying on being in the right position in attempt to limit explosive plays, which was a prominent issue for the Mountaineers this past year.

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Statistically, West Virginia was ranked among the bottom in the FBS for its defense. Out of 131 teams the Mountaineers were ranked 67th in rushing yards allowed per game (149.6), 111th in passing yards per game (262.7), 116th in points per game (32.9) and were tied for 119th with a minus-8 turnover margin.

Nose guards Hammond Russell and Mike Lockhart, a Georgia Tech transfer, are hopefuls that Brown said will gain pressure on the quarterback. Brown also identified linebacker Josiah Trotter, a true freshman, and edge rusher James Heard as other possible impact players.

Brown said West Virginia will also be trying to reconcile what has given the team success since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12 Conference.

The team is trending in the right direction, but still has a lot of work to do before opening the season on Sept. 2 at Penn State.

West Virginia will practice Tuesday and Thursday this week before getting a four-day break.

“Are we where we want to be? Absolutely not,” Brown said. “I’m glad we got eight more practices. I’m glad we got OTAs. I’m glad we have the summer. I’m glad we have fall camp. There’s a lot of individual things to look at. We can drill it, but it’s gotta show up in team.

“We can’t be so original about spring ball. It’s about growth. It’s about getting better.”

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