Corner Experience Gap Big Challenge For WVU, Addae
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — There couldn’t be a bigger dividing line between first and second units anywhere in the country than what West Virginia has at its cornerback positions heading into the season.
“I have older guys that have played meaningful football here. They have had some success. I have some younger guys that have not played meaningful football, but are very willing to learn and are willing to take what we are giving them as coaches. It’s a fun mix of guys to work with.”
That’s the take of WVU secondary coach Jahmile Addae, and it is a start in describing the experience gulf between cornerback starters Keith Washington and Hakeem Bailey, both redshirt seniors, and freshmen Tae Mayo and Nicktroy Fortune, neither of whom have taken a snap in a collegiate game. While the younger duo has talent, the gap that exists is a challenge to overcome in teaching, at the very least. Concepts and techniques that the senior duo have seen and executed many times can be quickly explained or put into place , while the first-time nature of such lessons might require more patient tutoring for the youngsters.
In ordinary situations, the gap wouldn’t be so dramatic. However, departures from last year’s team, along with position moves to help cover those holes, have left the Mountaineers with the odd senior-freshman situation at this point. In addition to the moves of Josh Norwood and Sean Mahone to safety, Addae has also seen his on-field depth hampered with the absence of Dreshun Miller, who has not been dressed for recent practices.
Addae, ever pragmatic, hasn’t bemoaned the lack of numbers, or the resulting big gap in experience.
“This is college football so there’s turnover every year. Basically the next guy has to pick up the rifle and go,” he said, evincing the attitude that helped him earn all-conference honors while a player at WVU. “The younger guys may not understand like what it’s like to play in this environment, to play on this stage, but what I can tell them is that the work they put in has to be consistent, and be done with intent.
To that end, Addae also puts his players through practice situations to help develop their confidence and familiarity with playing when the lights on on them, and to see how they respond to those challenges.
“We’ve tried every different avenue, whether it’s putting them in competition drills or one-on-one, or going scrimmage with all coaches off the field,” said Addae, who knows something about getting ready early. As a four-year starter for West Virginia, he understands what the freshmen are going through.
“Anytme you put guys in a one-on-one situation, I think that brings out the best in them, because it’s ‘all eyes on you’. Those things really spotlight two guys, where it’s me against you,” he explained. “I think the more we can put them in that type of situation, the more they become comfortable with it. There’s been some growth and there’s been some failure.”
It’s not often you hear a coach discuss the f-word, but the straightforward Addae understands that it is part of the growing and learning process.
“You have to fail a little bit to grow. If it didn’t work this time, you have to go back and assess and fix it, and try it again. It’s been a fair amount of both. None of these kids are dogs. They are going to give you what they have. It’s on us to to train them up and get them the way we want them to go.”
Addae figures to rely heavily on his veterans while the newcomers gain more experience, but he knows he can’t go through a game, let alone a season, in the pass-happy Big 12 with just two corners. The return of Miller would be a big help, but he knows that Mayo and Fortune will likely be called upon at some point. In no way is he viewing their development as a finished process, but there’s room for optimism.
“Right now we have done a hell of a job [in putting in the work], in my opinion,” Addae sums up. “Not everything is clean, but they are working their tails off to get better every rep.”