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Training Camp Preview: Defense Looks To Recover Quickly From Departures

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As the calendar turns to August, the West Virginia football program inches closer and closer to kicking off the 2021 season.

The energy and momentum that Neal Brown and the coaching staff have brought to the table during the off-season has been anything but disappointing. As Brown enters his third year at the helm at WVU, he has been able to complete facility renovations while putting together a top 25 recruiting class for 2022.

The culture that Brown and staff have built so far at West Virginia has been amazing and it all starts on the defensive side of the ball.

Last season, the Mountaineers statistically had one of the best defenses in the country, allowing 20.5 points per game. The NCAA raked WVU fourth in total defense.

This season, the Mountaineers will have many question marks on the defensive side after losing a few key players. Tykee Smith (Georgia), Dreshun Miller (Auburn) and Jeffrey Pooler (Northwestern) entered the transfer portal, while Darius Stills and Tony Fields were drafted in the NFL.

Despite the key losses, Brown is not worried whatsoever about the defense.

“The start on defense, I thought we had one of the best defensive units in the Big 12 conference last year and nationally are statistics back that up,” Brown said to the Big 12 media in July. “That’s going to be the unit with the most experience, that’s going to be the unit that will lead us again.”

Following the departure of five starters, what experience is Brown referring to?

The Mountaineers next season will be led by seniors Alonzo Addae, Dante Stills, Sean Mahone and Josh Chandler-Semedo. Stills—a Fairmont, West Virginia native—was selected to the 2021 Preseason All-Big 12 team in July. This group will have production coming from Akheem Mesidor, Exree Loe, Nicktroy Fortune and others.

Out of the question marks regarding players stepping up on the line and at the linebacker positions, the secondary remains to be the biggest concern. Losing an All-American player in Smith and an underclassman like Miller is going to hurt the Mountaineers this season.

As the season gets closer, look for players such as Scottie Young and Jackie Matthews to be those guys to fill in the replacements. Young—a transfer from Arizona—will be entering his redshirt senior season and will be asked to fill in the safety position this season. In three years for the Wildcats, Young recorded five interceptions and nine tackles-for-loss. The Mountaineers will once again look to an Arizona transfer to come in and make an impact.

During the spring game, Matthews looked like he was ready to take that next step. Matthews will be entering his redshirt junior season under cornerback for West Virginia. Against his teammates, Matthews had two tackles with a pass deflection. Nothing crazy but it shows the potential that Matthews can bring immediate impact on the field this season.

The former JUCO player played two games for Brown and the Mountaineers in 2020 and added three tackles to his career total.

As the Mountaineers look to begin camp, the defense looks to continue going forward with their progress despite losing key players from last season.

(Top Photo: Ben Queen)

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Ethan Bock is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in journalism at WVU. He currently writes for The Daily Athenaeum and is an intern with the Final Fourcast podcast. Ethan has covered WVU football and men’s basketball for the last year with Blue Gold Sports—an USA Today credentialed outlet. He is from Cincinnati, OH.

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