Locking Down The Safeties A Key To West Virginia’s 2017 Defense

West Virginia’s Shane Commodore Dissects Safety Development, Looks To Summer Session

By Matt Keller

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia couldn’t get any better, and head coach Dana Holgorsen knew it.

The Mountaineers had toiled and trudged through the 15 spring practices without many of its best players, including expected prime contributors like Kyzir White, Dravon Askew-Henry, Yodney Cajuste, Kennedy McKoy and Ka’Raun White during the Gold-Blue game. The first two are a pair of expected starters at safety in White and Askew-Henry, both players who have earned All-Big 12 honors and should form the backbone of the unit in Tony Gibson’s odd stack set.

But without the pair – Askew-Henry missed all of last season and the spring recovering from an ACL tear while White was held back in the scrimmage because of nagging bumps and bruises – West Virginia’s defense was a shell of what it could be. It was among the reasons Holgorsen’s goal was simply to get out of the spring, put a wrap on it – and whatever ailments were left over – and begin the summer period.

“We had five long weeks of football,” Holgorsen said. “The 15th practice, you get to the point where it’s ‘Let’s get this over and done with.’ You get to a point where you can’t get any better with what you currently have. We are going to be a different team in August. There are 20 guys who didn’t participate (in spring).

“We kinda know where we are at. Get it over and done with and give the players some time. This is the most personal time they have all year. Get them in a good frame of mind. We have a lot of work to do in June and July prior to getting camp kicked off in August.”

While not as much of a rebuilding job as the defensive line, WVU’s safety play remains a puzzle piece going into the summer conditioning period. The return of Askew-Henry and White as probable starters creates a domino effect that will shuffle the likes of Toyous Avery, Marvin Gross and Mountain State natives like Dunbar’s Derrek Pitts, Bridgeport’s Dante Bonamico and elder statesman Shane Commodore, a fifth-year senior from Morgantown.

“We lost a lot of guys,” Commodore said. “We’re basically just looking to fill holes, see what we have. We have guys coming back (in the fall). We got Kyzir coming back. Dravon should be coming back from injury. Marvin got some playing time. Toyous has gotten a lot of playing time. We have a lot of people who have experience. We have a lot of guys who are very capable. We just want to prove that we can play.”

The best guess – and it really isn’t one – is that Askew-Henry slides back into the same free safety slot he manned his first two years, a position where he earned frosh All-America honors from ESPN.com in 2014. White is the spur, just ahead of Gross, who becomes a dependable back-up. Pitts and Bonamico battle it out at bandit behind Avery, who earned his first career start against Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl and promptly had two interceptions called back by penalty.

That leaves Commodore as the jack-of-all-trades, able to play all three positions. The set-up provides the Mountaineers with high-level starters and the quality depth needed to navigate a schedule that finishes with eight consecutive games over October and November.

“I’ve been rotating at bandit and spur,” Commodore said. “I’ve been here so long, that once you learn the defense as a whole you can rotate a lot. Safety is pretty easy to play all three positions because they are similar. I like being able to play multiple ones because if people go down, I’m able to fill in, be put wherever I’m needed most.”