I have been jarring my memory to try and recall another instance during the last 25 or 30 years when West Virginia was able to recruit a freshman defensive tackle as big and as strong as Christian Brown.
Chris Neild, who is currently on the physically unable to perform list with the Washington Redskins after injuring his knee? No, he was a converted high school tight end.
John Thornton, who spent a number of years in the NFL with the Titans and Bengals? Nope, he was a developmental guy.
Mike Fox, a member of the New York Giants Super Bowl team and a long-time NFL regular? No, he too was a developmental guy.
David Grant, Tim Krumrie’s replacement in Super Bowl XXIII and another long-time NFL starter on the defensive line? Same deal – a developmental guy.
Renaldo Turnbull? Developmental guy.
Chris Parker? Developmental guy.
Calvin Turner? Developmental guy …. You get the picture.
If you recall, former Mountaineer coach Rich Rodriguez changed his defensive scheme, in part, because he had such a difficult time recruiting quality defensive tackles to WVU. And that’s why some people are making such a big deal about having a 6-foot-3-inch, 305-pound freshman tackle who can already bench press more than 400 pounds out on the field right now.
Texas and Oklahoma get these guys on a regular basis. Michigan, Ohio State, LSU and USC get them, too. Penn State and Miami used to get them, and now, it looks like West Virginia might have one as well.
Whether or not Brown can continue to stick in the defensive line rotation remains to be seen (Coach Dana Holgorsen said Thursday night that as many as 15 players are still repping the four D-line spots). But one thing is for certain, Brown already passes the eyeball test – and with flying colors.
“Have you seen him?” asked co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest the other day. “Yeah, he’s a guy who is going to have to play for us this year.”
Brown is also a rarity for first-year defensive line coach Erik Slaughter, who helped build outstanding defenses at Stephen F. Austin by taking athletic, fast-twitched guys and turning them into outstanding defensive tackles and edge pass rushers. Slaughter has talked repeatedly about looking for those tall, angular defensive linemen who can grow into their frames while maintaining their quickness and athleticism.
“As far as recruiting a guy who can sit in one spot or maintain one gap, we don’t do that very often,” Slaughter said. “What I want in the future are guys who are athletic, can change direction; to rush the quarterback and also to maintain a gap.”
Brown fits Slaughter’s profile with an added bonus – he’s big enough to block out the sun, not to mention the fact that he can get off the ball, too.
“Christian Brown is an explosive guy,” Slaughter admitted. “All of the freshmen we signed are quick-twitched guys who are athletes.”
Brown’s other offers won’t blow you away – Rutgers, Central Florida, USF and Connecticut are the ones that he can remember – but he was always high on West Virginia’s recruiting board.
“When I was looking at West Virginia, Coach Kirlav (since departed D-line coach Bill Kirelawich) was the coach that was recruiting me and we had a good relationship,” Brown recalled. “We were talking about playing time at my position, and then when he left I met Coach Slaughter and him and Kirlav were like the same type. They wanted me to play early, they wanted me to work hard, they wanted me to start and they wanted me to just come in here and compete every day.”
Slaughter told Brown exactly what he tells every single kid he has ever recruited - or will ever recruit; what he seeks are a bunch of starters to put in his defensive meeting room.
“I’m not a guy who just sits in there and says here are my three starters,” he said. “I’ve never sat in a defensive lineman’s home when they are being recruited and tell them, ‘We want you to sign a scholarship here at West Virginia University to be a backup.’ I don’t think any kid has ever signed a scholarship to be a backup. I want guys who can play.”
Asked if he thought Brown was capable of being in the lineup with Will Clarke and Jorge Wright when Sept. 1 rolls around, Slaughter didn’t bat an eye.
“It wouldn’t surprise me at all,” he said.
For his part, Brown already has the mindset of a guy who wants to play immediately.
“If I come in, compete, play hard and give effort, I’ve got a chance to start,” he said.
Even some of the older players have been very complimentary of Brown, which around here is almost as rare as having a light-footed 300 pound true freshman defensive tackle hanging out in the Mountaineer locker room.
“That kid is showing me stuff that I haven’t seen from another freshman,” remarked senior defensive tackle Shaq Rowell, one of the guys Brown is battling right now for playing time. “He’s impressed me a lot.”
That’s a pretty good endorsement. And perhaps even more impressive than that is the great attitude Brown is displaying, along with his willingness to work hard and learn quickly in order to get on the field.
“It makes me feel like they want the younger guys to step up and play early, but also you just can’t get big-headed over stuff like that,” Brown said. “You’ve got to work hard and compete every day and just try and play your role.”
It certainly appears that Brown has the brains and the brawn to get into the mix right away but there are questions still lingering, such as: How will he react when he’s out on the field playing in front of 60,000 screaming fans? Can he improve his technique enough to satisfy the coaches? And, if he does play, can he fight through a long season and remain consistent enough to stay out on the field as a regular contributor?
Of course, all of those questions will be answered in due time.
- Holgorsen said quarterback Geno Smith was excused from practice to be home with his family following the death of his grandmother.
“He took a few days to go back home to spend time with his family and he will be back by school (Monday),” Holgorsen said. “That gives us an opportunity to rep Paul (Milard) and Ford (Childress) a lot so they got a whole bunch of reps and will continue to do that for the next two days.”
The fact that Holgorsen gets to practice the next couple of days without Smith will give the backups valuable time under center.
“They have been getting a lot of reps anyway, but Geno takes 50 percent of the reps or maybe slightly higher than that, and we split the other 40 percent approximately between the two,” Holgorsen said. “Ford is a guy who is talented, but he’s where Paul was a year ago just from a knowledge standpoint and a rep standpoint.”
Holgorsen said both guys look like young, inexperienced backup quarterbacks and the added reps will only help them get better.
“Geno clearly makes everyone else around him better,” said Holgorsen. “Watching Paul and Ford both rep with the first team, they don’t necessarily make everyone else around them better where it’s clear that No. 12 does.”
- Holgorsen got a chuckle out of the two hours of panic created by some of the reporters permitted to observe practice today who were tweeting that Smith was nowhere to be found at the start of practice. The coach would not address the situation until he was finished with practice.
“Damn that social media, right?” he joked. “I didn’t event it. Usually people didn’t know what happened during practice until practice was over, but social media (has changed that). We can always take your phones and not allow you to do that ...
"I don’t think anybody would be too fired up about that, huh?” he quickly added.
- Holgorsen said the coaching staff this Sunday will begin the process of determining which players are candidates for redshirts and will work through their personnel to begin developing a two-deep by early next week. He said he is not opposed to repping three players at some positions for another week before narrowing things down even more before game-week prep begins for Marshall.
For instance, Holgorsen said they are repping about 15 players at the four defensive line spots and that has to be narrowed down soon. “The more you practice the more you can see guys separate themselves,” Holgorsen said. “In certain areas we can start to see it separate themselves from starters to backups.”
That is obviously not yet the case at defensive line.
- Holgorsen listed four obvious starters at wide receiver: Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Jordan Thompson and J.D. Woods. “After that you have backups and we will assess all of the backups to figure out who can handle playing,” he said.
- Mountaineer players are scheduled for media availability on Friday morning.
- West Virginia University begins classes for the fall semester on Monday.
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