Neal Brown has said repeatedly his offseason that he wants West Virginia to be “the most improved team in the nation” this season.
With so many new things this season – COVID-19 safety protocols, no fans in the stands, a free year of eligibility, etc. – there is actually a little less newness in the WVU locker room than there was at this time last season. With 2020 being year two of Brown and his staff, players have had a much easier time preparing for this season than they had in Brown’s first season last year.
“A lot more experience with a year under coach Brown and just the way he coaches, the way he runs practice, the offensive setup…it’s just running way smoother,” senior receiver T.J. Simmons said. “We’ve got a lot more guys who know what to do, last year it was a lot of guys who were trying to learn the offense and trying to learn how to practice with coach Brown.”
Having to devote less time to learning how Brown runs things, players this season have been able to divert their focus to smaller details of the game.
“(It’s) a lot more mental,” senior defensive tackle Darius Stills said. “Last year, new scheme, new everything you kind of can’t get into the mental part as much as the playing. But as this year’s going on the coaches really harp on the mental part of it because once you know what to do the first year, applying your mental skills to it just makes you a better football player in general.”
Stills said the defensive line specifically has been able to focus a lot more on the technical side of the game.
“Really it’s just been harping on the small things that make big plays,” Stills explained. “Getting off blocks, your hand placement, what gap you’re supposed to be in. They’re really just harping on the mental part of the game.”
Simmons said even the young players were able to get up to speed a lot faster this season.
“During COVID we had a lot of online meetings so whenever we did get back to practice, most of the young guys, almost everybody, knew exactly what to do, knew how to execute plays and that’s a complete 360 from last year,” Simmons said. “Everybody was a little uncertain to (Brown’s) coaching and how gameplan was going to work and what they were looking for. So I think now that we have more people that’s been under coach Brown, it’s running way smoother.”
The quest to be the most improved team in the country starts this Saturday for the Mountaineers. They will take on Eastern Kentucky at home in Milan-Puskar Stadium at noon. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1.