When you hear about battles in training camp, they are usually in the context of competing for playing time. West Virginia head coach Neal Brown, however, has pitted two underclassmen at different positions against one another in recent days.
When some of the team’s older cornerbacks were unavailable for practice last week, Brown matched true freshman cornerback Daryl Porter Jr. with redshirt-sophomore receiver Sam James. James was the team’s number one receiver last season, a tough ask for a true freshman like Porter to compete with.
Despite this, Brown liked the competition enough to keep the two going at it for at least three days.
“Daryl Porter Jr. was sharp,” Brown said last Wednesday. “He’s going against Sam James every day, and he’s getting better. He really competed hard today.”
Porter was a three-star recruit out of American Heritage High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He had a slew of school offer him a scholarship, including Utah, Washington State and Big 12 foes Baylor and Iowa State. Porter committed to WVU at the beginning of Dec. and has been frequently mentioned by Brown through the team’s first two weeks of practice.
“I’ve been impressed with the way he competes,” Brown said last Friday. “I’m not surprised with his knowledge of football. I’m not surprised with his ability, but he has stepped in and shown no fear, and he’s been competitive from the get-go.”
While Porter has been getting high praise from Brown after practices, perhaps the highest praise Brown has given Porter is putting him against James, someone who Brown is very high on.
“Our expectations for him, of course, are sky high. I think he’s special,” Brown said of James. “I think he’s done everything he’s needed to do to put himself in a position to have a big year. He’s going to be a key player for us. I think he’s more of a complete player, and I’m excited to see what he can do. He’s put on some weight, he’s added strength and I think his ball skills have improved.”
James was the team’s number one receiver in 2019 almost by default, but he made the most of it. James led the team in receptions (69) and receiving yards (677) while also scoring two touchdowns.
A practice philosophy Brown has brought up in the past is the idea of competing with teammates, instead of against them. In the past, Brown has talked about this in the context of the starting quarterback battle.
“What we talk about within our program is ‘competing with’,” Brown said of the battle between Austin Kendall and Jarret Doege. “We’re not necessarily competing versus each other…because at the end of the day you’re going to be on the same football team…The mindset is, we’re competing with each other to get each other better so that position will be better. Not necessarily being adversaries, but helping each other.”
It is clearly a similar tactic Brown is using here with James and Porter. To be put up against the team’s top receiver and one of Brown’s favorite players and not be completely overwhelmed speaks volumes to the kind of camp Porter is putting together. So good of a camp in fact that Porter is already working himself into some playing time, according to Brown.
“He’s got a chance. He may even be able to break into the lineup,” Brown said. “He’s definitely going to play. If you keep making plays in practice that’s how you are going to earn your way onto the field on Saturdays and so far so good for him.”