The transfer portal has made a significant influence on the world of college sports, and Neal Brown is hoping his new pickups will impact his team’s defense.
Of course, much of the team’s offensive rotation is mostly in place before WVU’s season kickoff on Sept. 4 against Maryland. For example, Jarret Doege will likely be the Mountaineers’ signal caller, with the duty handing the ball off to running back Leddie Brown, while throwing it to returning receivers Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Winston Wright and Sam James, among others. Brown confirmed that Tony Mathis will be the backup tailback after a great spring and summer, as well.
On defense, however, there are some more questions that need to be answered in the next month. The Mountaineers lost several starters on that side to both the NFL and the portal — but at the same time, they brought in proven talents to fill those holes.
“We probably wanted to add one more defensive back, I feel good with what we have,” Brown said. “We’re just going to be depending on some freshmen.”
Although WVU has a solid returning defensive line with Akheem Mesidor and Dante Stills, Brown brought in Tennessee transfer Darel Middleton. An imposing physical presence, Brown expects Middleton to make a difference at West Virginia — but it might take some time to get acclimated to WVU’s game.
“I don’t think it’s fair to have expectations that during the first month of the season, he’s going to be a big factor for us. I think he’s going to have to play into shape, and it’s going to take him a little bit of time. I just think interior body-wise…it takes a little time in our scheme because we move so much and there’s a lot of timing, but he will be a factor for us as we move through the season.”
Middleton, along with redshirt freshman Sean Martin, will help bring different looks to the defensive line.
Behind Middleton, Brown brought in a host of linebackers — some of whom are already competing for playing time. Deshawn Stevens from Maine will come in and play some mike linebacker. As a Black Bear, he racked up 9.5 sacks in 20 games, as well as 128 total tackles.
Stevens a talent Brown is excited to utilize, especially because he’s already seen what he’ll get out of the transfer.
“At Maine, they used him very similar to how we’re going to use him, they blitzed him quite a bit,” Brown said. “They blitzed him interior and exterior, and then he stood up and played in the box.”
WVU’s depth at linebacker is bolstered by even more new additions from the portal, including Lance Dixon from Penn State, who Brown describes as “what you want” athletically.
The secondary got some reinforcements as well, namely Charles Woods and Caleb Coleman. Woods, a cornerback, is making it easier for his coaches to acclimate him into the system.
“[He had] a really good career at Illinois State,” Brown said. “I like him because he’s a quick learner. He loves football. He just kind of goes to work every day and he’s had a great workman-like attitude since he got here.”
A safety, Coleman is still figuring his spot out in the defense. Brown has tried him out at both safety and spear, which, after the departures of last season, are crucial spots to fill.
“He can really run, he’s got great length,” Brown said.