As a precaution, WVU has held split-squad practices throughout the first week of fall camp, with players grouped according to which teammates they contact most often.
Those practices have changed how the players are evaluated, according to the team’s head coach.
Neal Brown said these split-squad practices have led to some uneven matchups, pitting guys who are newcomers to the program against experienced, all-conference performers. True evaluations and the development of a two-deep won’t happen, he thinks, until the Mountaineers begin normal practices.
“I think we’re doing more teaching now, and probably evaluating how they do in regards to situational football more so than how they’re doing in one-on-one matchups,” Brown said.
But there are some benefits to these split-squad practices. They feature a lot of seven-on-seven work, including half-line run and half-line pass drills, and because of that, Brown said a lot of younger players get extra attention.
He said inexperienced offensive linemen especially are benefitting from the new practice format.
“Working these split squads, everybody in our program is getting a lot of reps, and it’s been really good for those young kids because they’re getting one-on-one coaching,” Brown said. “Often times, they wouldn’t do that — in years past, they wouldn’t necessarily get that because you’re trying to get ready to play. We’ve got a longer time to get ready to play, and we’re coaching fewer guys.”
Though they’re able to give extra attention to developing players, split-squad practices have led to longer days for Brown and his assistants. They’re essentially working two-a-days in an effort to keep athletes safe as they prepare for the regular season.
“It’s hard on the coaches because we’re doing two practices and two walkthroughs a day,” Brown said.
Then there’s another unusual element: because no reporters or pro scouts are permitted to attend practices as another precaution, Brown said his staff sometimes has to “manufacture energy” to get players going.
“When you all come out there,” Brown said to reporters Saturday, “and there’s cameras out there, there’s people making notes, writing stories, when NFL scouts are allowed to come in…as coaches, we’re not having to start those guys — the ones that need starting sometimes, we don’t have to do that, because they like to perform and showcase their abilities.”