The 2020 college football season is going to be one of a kind, there’s no doubt about that.
At West Virginia, second-year head coach Neal Brown has been running split-squad practices since the start of camp last week. These practices are half the team practices in the morning and the other half goes in the afternoon. This is done in an attempt to keep the total number of people around at one time as low as possible. It also helps that, in the even of a COVID-19 outbreak, the entire team would not be exposed all at once.
In running these split-squad practices, Brown is actually finding some things he likes about them.
“There’s been some really positive things come out of the split-squad that probably I hadn’t thought about. Everybody in our program has been getting a lot of reps and it’s been really good for those young kids because they’re getting one-on-one coaching where…in years past they wouldn’t necessarily get that,” Brown told reporters over Zoom Saturday. “We’ve got a longer time to get ready to play and we’re coaching fewer guys, so that’s been positive.”
With less players at each practice, each individual player is getting more coaching time, according to Brown. This includes the first-year freshman, who you would usually not expect to get a lot of coaching during camp, an aspect of the split practices that takes Brown all the way back to his playing days.
“It’s been a long time, almost back to when I was playing and then the first couple years I was coaching…when the freshmen used to come in early and you had three days with the freshmen and you got some really good one-on-one teaching.”
Brown specifically mentioned that fact that some of the team’s young offensive linemen, redshirt-freshmen Parker Moore and Brandon Yates and true freshmen Jordan White and Zach Frazier, have been getting a lot of quality reps against some of the team’s best defensive linemen.
The flips side of this coin is that, with the team split up, it is harder for Brown and company to really evaluate the individual players because he has first-stringers facing off against backups, not other starters.
“It is a little bit harder to evaluate sometimes because you don’t always want to have your best on your best, which is what you get in a spring setting or in a fall camp setting a lot of times.”
Brown has had each squad focusing mainly on situational football in practice. Two-minute drives, redzone trips, and end of half/end of game scenarios are what the team has mainly worked on according to Brown.
“I think we’re doing more teaching now and evaluating how they do in regards to situational football more so than how they’re doing in one-on-one matchups, because quite frankly we’ve got some mismatches,” Brown said. “All the matchups aren’t even and so I don’t know, until we get into a whole team environment, will we get true evaluations on some of these guys and figure out what exactly our two-deep looks like.”
Brown said it is also taxing on the coaches to run two practices and two walkthroughs every day.
In Thursday’s camp report, Brown said that he plans for the program to have its first full-team practice Saturday in Milan Puskar Stadium following another slipt-squad practice Friday.