MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In his third season as the head coach of the Mountaineers, the depth on Neal Brown’s roster has improved nearly across the board.
Young wide receivers who have been thrust into the lineup over the last two seasons are more mature and “physically ready,” he said. Depth at running back is no longer thin, and the offensive line looks promising.
The defense that led the Big 12 Conference in multiple categories last fall also returns several experienced starters on the line and at linebacker. But according to Brown, it’s the defensive secondary that seems to be lacking something.
“We have numbers, but we have really old guys and really young guys,” Brown said. “I like the talent at that third level in the secondary, but there’s a lot of inexperience there, and we’re gonna have to get those guys ready.”
That’s the benefit of returning to split squad practices, though: younger players can build up that experience quickly.
“We’re getting them a lot of reps,” Brown said.
At safety, West Virginia features several veterans, led by All-Big 12 honoree Alonzo Addae. His position mates include Sean Mahone, who has started more than 40 games in his WVU career; Scottie Young, a promising transfer who made his debut in the Liberty Bowl; and Kerry Martin Jr., who opted out of the 2020 campaign.
But it’s a different story at cornerback, where the Mountaineers possess much less experience and need to fill a starting spot opposite junior Nicktroy Fortune. The three frontrunners to fill that second starting role in the secondary are sophomore Daryl Porter Jr, redshirt junior Jackie Matthews and redshirt junior Charles Woods.
Porter, the son of an eight-year NFL safety, appeared in six contests last fall as a true freshman. Brown likes what he has seen from the sophomore so far in camp.
“He’s got continue,” Brown said. “He had a really good start last year in camp. He kind of fell off. I think his body’s more mature, and he’s gonna be able to handle the work a little better than he did a year ago.”
Matthews appeared in all 10 games last season for the Mountaineers after transferring in from Mississippi Golf Coast CC. During spring ball, Brown spoke optimistically about Matthews’ potential, saying that most junior college transfers turn a corner after playing a full season at the Power 5 level. But, the head coach noted that Matthews is playing through a foot injury in the early stages of camp.
Then, there’s Woods, a newcomer from FCS Illinois State, where he redshirted last season. In his sophomore season in 2019, though, he started in 15 games and earned All-America honorable mention honors from HERO Sports.
Brown admits that he likes what he’s seeing from the former Redbird.
“I think he’s a guy who is getting used to the speed of the game, because it’s faster, but I think all three of those guys are more than capable,” Brown said.
West Virginia led the Big 12 in passing defense last season, allowing just under 160 yards per game.