In his quest to fortify his offensive line — a serious concern heading into the 2020 college football season — West Virginia University coach Neal Brown has not been afraid to try something new.
Case in point: There’s a new face at right tackle, and he’s the former starting center.
Brown has been working redshirt sophomore Briason Mays at right tackle for the last couple of days and said he has been pleased with what he has seen so far.
“We think he’s got a chance,” Brown told WVU’s official athletic website. “He’s got the knowledge to be able to play really all of the positions, just from his background of being a center.”
Brown has mentioned Junior Uzebu, Brandon Yates and John Hughes in previous interviews as players who are getting significant practice time at left and right tackle. While Mays may not have a bunch of experience at that position, he does have a significant advantage over the other three in one category — playing time.
Mays started seven games at center and participated in 494 offensive plays last season for the Mountaineers.
The other three tackles combined to play in a total of 122 offensive plays with one start. Hughes (113 offensive plays, one start) holds the lion’s share of that time.
Tackle is a major point of concern for the offensive line this preseason. WVU lost both 2019 starters, Colton McKivitz and Kelby Wickline, and McKivitz was the Mountaineers’ most decorated offensive player.
After being named Big 12 Co-Offensive Lineman of the Year and earning All-America honors, McKivitz was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers.
WVU needs all the help it can get at tackle, so Brown decided to give Mays a chance.
“I think he’s got some potential to help us out there at tackle,” Brown said. “He’s got good twitch. He’s got decent length and he’s athletic. He’s done well. We kind of threw him in the fire on Saturday.”
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Junior outside linebacker Exree Loe seems ready to make an even greater impact in West Virginia’s defensive rotation. During Saturday’s scrimmage, Loe intercepted an Austin Kendall pass.
Loe not only has been a key member of the Mountaineers’ special teams units, but he also started three games last year for WVU.
He ended the season with 40 tackles, 3½ for a loss.
Brown said Loe might be ready for more.
“I’ve been impressed with Exree,” Brown said Saturday. “He’s got talent. He’s gotten his weight up to where it needs to be. For the last two years he’s been one of our best special teams players and he made plays on defense today.”
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Defensive tackle Darius Stills isn’t done earning preseason honors. The Big 12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year not only was named to the CBSSports/247Sports All-America first team, but he and linebacker Tony Fields, a transfer from Arizona, also were named to the Reese’s Senior Bowl Top 250 list.
“I told Darius to prove them right,” Brown said. “If you get accolades you’ve got to prove those people right. And if not picked where you want to be then you’ve got to prove them wrong. I hope our team is really hungry.”