Which True Freshmen Are Primed For Playing Time In The Opener?
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A trio of true freshman names are in the conversation for playing time on West Virginia’s defense, according to coordinator Tony Gibson.
Gibson said defensive linemen Darius Stills, out of Fairmont, W.Va., and Florida native Lamonte McDougle have impressed nearing the midway point of fall camp, while Pennsylvania safety Kenny Robinson could be a back end option for the Mountaineers.
What’s most surprising about Gibson’s statement were the positions involved. Rarely does a true freshman teenager have the physical capacity to hold up along the defensive front, especially when matched against Power Five offensive lines. But Stills and McDougle both come from NFL pedigrees. Stills father, Gary, was an All-Big East player for WVU who finished his career with 159 tackles and 26 sacks – including four in the 1997 season opener against Marshall. He went on to a nine-year NFL career with the Chiefs, Ravens and Rams, primarily playing special teams.
McDougle’s father, Stockar, was a junior college All-American and played at Oklahoma before becoming a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions. His uncle Jerome played at Miami before an injury-plagued NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles. Those bloodlines have given Stills and McDougle an edge in developing early.
Robinson, meanwhile, has shown an acute awareness on the field, and flashed enough athleticism that Gibson put the rangy 6-foot-2 defender at free safety. That’s a position forced to cover significant space, and one which has to have an understanding of positioning and responsibilities on the field, especially in relation to the corners and hybrid safeties.
It’s hoped that Robinson could mix in for a handful of plays in place of starter Dravon Askew-Henry, sharing that load with senior Shane Commodore. The coaching staff would like to develop Stills and McDougle to where they could each play 10 to 20 snaps per game, exactly as WVU used ends Adam Shuler and Reese Donahue last year before both assumed the starting mantle this season.
“McDougle and Stills are guys who are getting a lot more reps right now,” Gibson said. “The most pleasant surprise for us as a whole defensive staff is Darius Stills. He’s a kid who is doing some really good things. We just didn’t know if he would be ready right now, but hopefully he can continue to do what he’s doing and help us. We are excited about that. McDougle’s a worker. He plays with great leverage. It probably helps that he is 5-9. He’s very strong. We knew that when we recruited him. We saw that and the explosion.”
The pair would provide needed numbers in a defense searching to not only replace all three starters along the line – and eight in all – but rebuild the depth as well. Stills, at 6-4, 278 pounds, figures more prominently on the outside at end. McDougle, because of his stout 295-pound build and ability to hold the point of attack, could see time at nose tackle. Like Robinson, both Stills and McDougle were first team all-state players at the prep level.
“You can see if they are ready physically,” Gibson said. “If they are physically mature enough, we are going to rep them. We thought (Stills) was, we put him and and now we are seeing he is. What you look for is seeing ‘OK, who is getting what we are doing?’ You see a kid getting better and better. That’s what we are seeing right now across the board. What’s our ceiling? I don’t know. Are we tapped out? I hope not. But with so many guys who have not played in a real game, it’s hard to tell right now.”
Note: Gibson also addressed the linebacker situation, saying he had just four players with which he felt comfortable. West Virginia needs at least five and preferably six, but will get a boost toward the start of the Big 12 schedule with the expected return of will ‘backer David Long from a torn meniscus. Right now, only middle linebacker Brendan Ferns is seen as a reliable reserve.
“Some guys are going to have to step up and do some things or I don’t know what we will do,” Gibson said. “Play with 10? You have enough time now. We have 22 days left. What would worry me is to get to the mock week two weeks before a game.”