The Secondary Is Primary
By Bob Hertzel
Sometimes in sports the terms we use really don’t make much sense at all.
Think about it for a moment. In baseball a soft fly ball is called “a can of corn,” the catcher’s gear is termed “the tools of ignorance” even though — with due apologies to Yogi Berra — catchers normally are among the smartest of players, and a high bouncer is called a “Baltimore chop.”
Football reveres a downhill runner even though the field is flat and a “flea flicker” play is … well, what else would you call it?
There is another term that has always seemed to be a misnomer and that is “secondary” for the defensive backfield.
See, there is nothing secondary about the secondary in the game of football as it is played today and it really seems out of place in the Big 12.
In fact, if possible, someone ought to start campaign to call it the “primary” rather than “secondary” for there is nothing more important a Big 12 team’s ability to stop an opponent’s passing game.
Which brings us to West Virginia, and what well may be perceived as its biggest weakness this season, leading, perhaps, to their preseason ranking as the No. 6 team in the Big 12.
In a league where probably the two top quarterbacks in the country — Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State and Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma (put them in any order you want) — reside, the team with the best secondary is probably at a great advantage.
WVU comes into the season without much known about its secondary, having lost its three top cornerbacks — one of them All-American Rasul Douglas — along with some talented safeties.
It also lost its cornerback coach, Blue Adams, and replaced him a promising but inexperienced first-year coach in Doug Belk, who to date has been getting rave reviews from his players but the test comes opening night against Virginia Tech.
Only two corners come into the season with any measurable experience.
One is a Syracuse graduate transfer, Corey Winfield, whose WVU career got off to an unstable start with a DUI arrest.
The other, senior Elijah Battle, was in the rotation last season, getting 233 snaps.
He understands that he brings game experience against the quality of players the Big 12 bring at you, even though he has only that one year, having been one of the many junior college players who have flocked to WVU over the past few years.
As such, he has taken it upon himself to be the locker room leader and share his experience as best he can, complimenting the defensive views brought in by Belk, who learned a pretty fair place called Alabama.
“It’s going good with coach Belk, he’s way more comfortable now, and everyone’s more comfortable now with coach Belk, he’s doing a good job,” Battle said recently.
In a way, the inexperience at WVU has been a blessing for Belk as he starts over anew with everyone.
For example, Winfield, the Syracuse transfer, came in for a visit his first day on the job.
“He was laughing at me for not having anything in my office,” Belk said back during spring practice. “We still sat down and had a good conversation. We watched film together and talked about his goals, some of the players I’ve coached, some of my accomplishments I’ve had thus far in my career. I showed him some tape and some things I like to do, some of which will carry over for him.”
This, of course, is something he has now had a chance to do with all of his pupils.
WVU goes into preseason practice with Winfield and Battle projected as starters but no job has really been won year. There’s a strong group of newcomers pushing hard to for playing time, beginning with the Adams twins, Jacquez and Jordan. Jordan played some last year while Jacquez used the season to redshirt.
Then there’s Jake Long, who tore an ACL last fall, forcing him to redshirt, and Mike Daniels, who improved enough as the year went on that he got some playing time, as did Kevin Williams.
Belk’s key project, however, is junior college transfer Hakeem Bailey from Iowa Western, where he showed enough ability to intercept five passes and break up nine others. They are hoping he can move right in and play.
One thing is certain, the way WVU plays its defense, the cornerbacks have to be rough and ready for most of it is man-to-man.
“We are going to play man here. So if you don’t like to play man this might not be the spot for you,” Battle said. “If not, you’re going to have to buckle down and man up and do what you’ve got to do.”