With spring football practice in the rearview mirror, West Virginia’s program enters a period of evaluation, along with a bit of downtime for players. However, many changes in the college game, including the reopening of recruiting and the need to rebuild rosters in the age of open transfers, will likely make the upcoming months the busiest ever for coaches across the nation.
At WVU, the completion of the spring game on April 24 put a cap on the Mountaineers’ 15 practice sessions and set the focus on academics and review.
“We have some work to finish up in the classroom,” coach Neal Brown noted — an area in which his team has had few overt issues during his tenure. His focus on solid academic standing among the players he recruits has helped in that regard, with few having to worry about initial qualification and many excelling in their work. The last day of classes at WVU was yesterday, with final exams running May 4-8.
Also underway are individual reviews of the players, and meetings with each to discuss where they stand, areas to improve and the development of plans to assist in those goals. Brown indicated that the review of spring drills as a whole took place this past week.
“Our scouting department, that Matt Jansen leads, will do an independent evaluation on everybody that may play (this year). Our coaches will do position evaluations. Then we’ll sit down with every player, the position coach, and myself and we’ll give them feedback,” Brown explained.
“Feedback is really important. Everybody craves it, whether it’s a player, an employee or a boss. We’ll finish up with that. Then we’ll have some time off in May, and come back around Memorial Day and get the summer started.”
Jansen, who came to WVU in 2019, has had wide-ranging duties in his short time at WVU. He scouts and assists in all areas of game analysis and planning, and has also served in recruiting and player personnel roles. In doing so, he draws on nearly a decade of NFL experience, having worked in college scouting and player personnel roles with the Houston Texans and the Baltimore Ravens from 2011-18.
One of the bigger and newer challenges over the summer will be the rebuilding of the roster. WVU, like every most every other school in the nation, has seen a number of players exit with the advent of the one-time no-penalty transfer rule. Reasons for those individual transfers abound, but the result is that programs will be working and recruiting throughout the summer to bring in replacements to fill some of those gaps.
The raw numbers of transfers are staggering, but a closer examination reveals a lesser, yet still significant impact.
Since the start of this academic year, WVU has seen 26 football players enter the portal. Of those, however, nine were walk-ons. Another 10 scholarship players saw very limited or no snaps in 2020. Still, the loss of players such as Jeffery Pooler, Tykee Smith, Dreshun Miller and Alec Sinkfield leaves gaps that will have to be filled, and with the number of initial scholarships given in any one year still limited to 25, a one-to-one replacement isn’t possible.
“You have to be versatile. You have 85 scholarships, but with the (transfer) rules it’s impossible,” Brown said of getting back to a full roster complement. “You’re never going to get there. So with your depth, it’s not going to be what it used to be. Your best players have to be versatile enough to move around and play a couple of positions.”
Brown noted that some experimentation with that work went well in the spring.
“Akheem Mesidor playing more on the interior, (that move) sticks,” he said of shuffling up front. “He became more comfortable in there and he can go back out to play on the edge. Devell Washington (moving to linebacker) will take some time to come along. James Gmiter at center, he can play there if need be. Doug Nester got reps at guard and tackle, and Parker Moorer did the same. I am pleased with what we got accomplished.”
While the departure of some players who would have been anchors, both on the field and in the locker room, definitely stings, it’s something that just about every program is experiencing. It adds another hurdle to the team-building process, but Brown remains optimistic.
“I like this team that we have right now. I believe our program and our players. I think the chemistry in our staff, and the type of people we have, will allow us to do what we want to do here – and that’s win a championship.”