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Neal Brown’s Offseason To-Do List: Improve the Running Game

Cody Nespor

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – There is a lot a first-year head coach can do in his first offseason with a new team. However, for Neal Brown this offseason is all about improving in two key areas, running the football more efficiently and causing more turnovers.

“We’ve got to focus on being one of the most improved teams in the country next year,” Brown said in his end of season press conference Friday. “I think the key area of improvement for us offensively is run game production. If we’re going to make strides offensively and make strides as a football team, we’ve got to be able to run the football better. Defensively, we’ve got to increase our takeaways.”

West Virginia was the worst rushing team in the Big 12 this season. Their 879 rushing yards was more than 800 yards less than the next lowest Big 12 team. They were also one of only five teams in Division I not to rush for more than 1,000 yards and only one of three power five teams that failed to do so.

“I think there’s the recruiting piece and the development piece,” Brown said about improving the running game. “The development piece is critical, I think we’ve got to get stronger, especially on the interior part of the offensive line. Some of that’s through youth and just time will solve that and some of its technique. There’s a strength component, there’s a pad level component, there’s an explosive component we’ve got to get better at. That’s why the offseason is so critical.”

After losing junior Josh Sills to a season-ending injury, WVU’s interior offensive line was made up of guys who had not played before. Chase Behrndt, Briason Mays, Mike Brown, James Gmiter and John Hughes all played for the first times in their careers.

“We’ve got to do a better job of finishing runs at running back, got to do a better job of getting space at running back,” Brown continued. “You can address some of that during the offseason.”

Senior Kennedy McKoy (99 rushes, 323 yards) and sophomore Leddie Brown (107, 367) split time at running back this season. Brown will be the only running back returning who had more than 30 carries this season. Senior Martell Pettaway decided to preserve a year of eligibility by redshirting after playing in four games this year. He rushed 27 times for 72 yards.

“Some of it’s recruiting. We’ve got to recruit guys who can compete for playing time. The more competition you have in the room, the more push there is to get everybody in that room better. We’ve got to get some more bodies in that room, we’ve got to get some bigger, more explosive guys in that room, got to get more depth at running back.”

WVU had a four-star running back verbally committed up until this weekend when Brooklyn’s Lamy Constant reopened his recruitment. There are other running back recruits the coaching staff is looking at, however.

“The offensive line is the hardest position to recruit,” Brown explained. “First of all, there just aren’t very many big human beings. You’re looking for either guys that have to add weight and that are projects a little bit or you’re trying to recruits guys that are the size already and you’ve just got to get them stronger, get them experience. There’s a small number of those and it’s really, really competitive from a recruiting standpoint.”

Brown said right now the coaching staff is considering all possibilities to improve the running game next year.

“When you’re as poor in that area as we were, everything’s on the table, schematics, the whole deal. There’s a clear gap between that and anything else we’ve got to get better at offensively.”

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Cody is currently a second-year graduate student at West Virginia University studying journalism. His graduate research focuses on the effects newspaper closures have on local communities. He graduated from Slippery Rock University in 2018 with a degree in digital media production. He was born and raised in Mercer, Pennsylvania.

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