With spring football starting up, teams in the Big 12 are hitting the practice field for the next few weeks. The West Virginia Mountaineers started practice on Wednesday, and will host a spring game on April 24th. Below, we give an overview of the program and provide an idea of what questions the Mountaineers will seek to answer over the course of their allotted 15 practices.
In head coach Neal Brown’s second season, the Mountaineers progressed from a sub-.500 to an above average team in 2020. They beat all of those teams that were in the middle or lower tier of the conference, and lost to those programs that were top tier programs in the Big 12, finishing 5-4 on the regular season. With the bowl win over Army, Brown has the rebuild in Morgantown looking like it’s right on schedule.
Heading into 2021, it’s fair to wonder what the ceiling is for this Mountaineers squad, however. West Virginia has seen 16 players – including a few starters – transfer out, so developing depth will be a major goal for them this spring. Will next season be a mix of close wins and closes losses, and largely resemble the season previous? Or, in Brown’s third year, will the Mountaineers jump to the top of the conference, and leapfrog other programs that are ahead of them?
PRACTICE BEGINS: March 24th
SPRING GAME: April 24th
LOCATION: Milan Puskar Stadium (Morgantown, WV)
Offensive Questions For The Mountaineers
An offense that generated 26.5 points per game in 2020 definitely has room to grow, and hopefully returning experience will help with that. With a starting quarterback and running back already set, Neal Brown only has to find starters at few spots. The losses include offensive linemen Chase Bherndt and Michael Brown, but there are younger players with starting experience who could step in there. Look for sophomore Zach Frasier to take over at center, and look for Jordan White to possibly take over at guard.
The receiving corps struggled with drops last year, but the Mountaineers were young at the position, but four of their top five pass catchers are back, so improvement should be expected. A major loss there is wide receiver T.J. Simmons, who is off to the NFL. Look for sophomore Reese Smith to possibly take over at that vacant spot in the slot. Various backups also transferred out amongst the pass catchers, so depth will definitely be a focus of the offensive staff.
Defensive Questions For The Mountaineers
West Virginia had one of the better defenses in the Big 12 last season, but a reworked defensive staff will have to deal with the loss of six starters off that 2020 squad. The defensive line was the strength of the unit, and replacements will have to be found for both defensive end Jeffrey Pooler and nose tackle Darius Stills. Stills was one of the best defensive lineman in the country last season, so it will be interesting to see who could fill the void he leaves behind.
New starters will have to be found among the linebackers as well. Vandarious Cowan is a candidate to take over at the “Bandit” position, but sophomore Jared Bartlett, who has significant game experience, could also be a name to look out for. Senior Exree Loe could primed for a breakout season, so he certainly a player to look out for as a potential starter at middle linebacker.
The Mountaineers got some unfortunate news when Tykee Smith and Dreshun Miller decided to transfer out earlier this year, so new starters at left cornerback and the spear will need to be identified. Scottie Young, who was a three year starter at Arizona before deciding to transfer to West Virginia, late last season, will be eligible to play in the fall. If he can be an answer in the secondary, that group could maintain the same level of play it exhibited last year.