“Useful” OTAs have Mountaineers ahead of schedule in targeting and assigning

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — At this point in the calendar year, West Virginia typically prepares for its first day of soccer practice.

However, with the Mountaineers opening their 2022 season on Thursday, September 1 in Pitt, WVU was able to get an early start to fall camp, which began Monday with a 1 hour and 40 minute practice session.

According to head coach Neal Brown, the majority of the 110 attendees had a strong understanding of what was going on, thanks in large part to a new NCAA rule allowing coaches to work with players for up to two hours a week in June and July. During these months, teams are allowed up to eight hours per week of non-contact skill classes, but previously these could only be player-led.

With the rule change, college football essentially took on a similar structure to that permitted by the National Football League with its OTA (Organized Team Activity) meetings.

“The OTAs have been really beneficial,” Brown said. “The way OTAs are set up, you can’t oppose anyone, but you can work on alignment and attribution. From an offensive retention perspective, maybe with the exception of [true freshman tight end and recent arrival] Will Dixon and some of our new walk-ons all knew what to do.

“We need to improve our reactions when we play against someone. I’m not saying our track reactions and things like that were perfect. Maybe our timing isn’t exactly where it should be, which is to be expected on day one, but our retention has been really good. Defensively the same. What we asked them to do in our Day 1 installation, we actually covered three different times during OTAs in June and July. I felt like we knew what to do and didn’t need to slow things down and teach a lot out there today.”

West Virginia’s summer schedule was for coaches to conduct OTAs twice a week for 50 minutes per session in June.

“We did some foundational work and some slow-moving installation work on offense, defense and special teams,” Brown said.

Players were then given a three-week break while the coaching staff took vacations before OTAs resumed for two weeks before the start of fall camp.

“We’ve picked it up here for the last two weeks, but we weren’t out there screaming and screaming — nothing like that,” Brown said. “It was class. The guys got it and they really liked it.”

West Virginia has also entered a new phase of the preseason where 25 drills are allowed over a 31-day period.

In recent years, there have been fewer days off in August, but Brown sees more pros than cons in the change.

“The rule change makes sense. It was always either 28 or 29 days to do your 25 exercises,” Brown said. “They added three days to that. We’ve made it so that we never train hard for more than three days in a row. We want to do a build up and we have practices that are low, medium and high. You have to build yourself up to those high levels. We’re trying to get down a path where we can play the fastest and be the freshest on September 1st. But now that we’ve done those high or really physical exercises, we can take a day off [off]. We’ve included a few different two-day breaks that I think make the most sense. It’s a bit tedious.”

The West Virginia fall camp schedule is for 12 practices before the start of the fall semester on August 17th. The Mountaineers will then conduct 13 more drills before the 105th edition of the Backyard Brawl.

“Everyone talks about all the negative changes. The OTAs have been unquestionably positive,” Brown said. “Today we didn’t go in there and say, ‘Hey, get in line here.’ The NFL does a lot of things right. These OTAs have been really good for us. There’s something you’ll see as long as the staff don’t abuse them.”

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With the exception of cornerback Charles Woods, the West Virginia secondary school will feature an abundance of fresh faces in 2022.

One player the Mountaineers were optimistic could be a big factor in the backend in 2022 was safety Saint McLeod, but it appears he’s a long way from doing so.

Kansas Jayhawks wide receiver Kwamie Lassiter II (8) runs into West Virginia Mountaineers safety Saint McLeod (25) in the first half at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

A victim of a stabbing on the High Street in March, McLeod stays away from the team.

“Saint is not with us,” Brown said. “I don’t see him being with us during fall camp.”

A true freshman in 2021, McLeod played in eight games, started a pair and had a total of 162 defensive snaps. He was WVU’s leading tackler with eight wins in Kansas and had six stops in his first career start – a win over Texas.

Earlier, less than a week before the annual Gold-Blue Spring Game on April 23, Brown suggested McLeod was on the mend.

“He’s doing better. As far as he can train, he’s told me he’s been running,” Brown said. “The wounds are healing and it seems to be getting better.”

McLeod had 22 tackles and a pair of forced fumbles last season.

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