Youth Infusion Helps Safety Slot Build Depth, Breadth For Coming Season
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia has set its two deep at safety, and there’s been a freshman splash into the pool of playing time.
Both Derrek Pitts and Kenny Robinson have cracked the proverbial glass ceiling of a first-year foray onto the field, with Pitts expected to see snaps as a back-up at bandit, while Robinson is a reserve at free safety. That’s not completely uncommon, especially at the safety positions, where a redshirt season and multiple years in the weight room aren’t required, as they often are along the offensive and defensive lines.
Pitts, a native of South Charleston, W.Va., and Robinson, out of Imani Christian Academy in Wilkinsburg, Pa., have impressed with their physical prowess thus far, but must hone the down-in, down-out discipline and fundamentals to push for time beyond a handful of plays on defense and their special teams contributions.
“He’s an athlete,” Caponi said of Robinson. “He is still probably a year away but does some really good things. He’s gotta dial in more mentally. I think he the physical aspect is there, but he’s young. Gotta learn how to practice, gotta learn how to finish every rep.”
The same is true for Pitts, a first-team Class AAA all-state selection a year ago while winning the Carl Lee Award as the West Virginia’s top defensive back. An excellent athlete with solid size a 6-foot-1, 182 pounds, Pitts has a natural nose for the ball, and his anticipation and ability to break on plays has pushed him into the second team position behind junior Toyous Avery. Robinson, currently running with the second and third teams at free safety, benefited from a knee injury to Marvin Gross, who was slated to man the back-up slot at either free safety or spur entering the fall.
“That was probably the position we had the least amount of depth, especially with Marvin going down with a knee injury,” Caponi said. “We had to move Jovanni (Stewart) there full time as of right now, and that allowed the opportunity for those younger guys to get some reps there. (Robinson) is a guy right now we feel could potentially help us, but we are in no rush to throw him in there.”
Otherwise, West Virginia is as set for starters at safety as it is in any other position. With Kyzir White at spur and former freshman All-American Dravon Askew-Henry at free, along with the versatile, rangy play of Avery at bandit, the Mountaineers have clearly established top seven in a position where it’s impossible to gain quality practice reps for any more. White and Askew-Henry were preseason All-Big 12 selections by three different publications, while Avery comes off his first career start against Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl, when he had a pair of interceptions called back by penalty.
“We are set right now,” Caponi said. “We are going into this mock week with seven guys: the top three, and four back-ups. We have two free safeties and one back-up spur and one back-up bandit. We have solidified the plans at safety for which guys we can play and who we can redshirt. Some of those guys can flip-flop positions, which creates more than just a two deep when those guys can do different things.”
The Two-Deep At Safety
Spur: Kyzir White (6-2, 215 lbs., Sr.)/Jovanni Stewart (5-8, 194 lbs., Soph.)
Bandit: Toyous Avery (5-11, 201 lbs., Jr.)/Derrek Pitts (6-1, 182 lbs., Fr.)
Free: Dravon Askew-Henry (6-0, 198 lbs., Jr.)/Kenny Robinson (6-3, 191 lbs., Fr.) OR Osman Kamara (5-10, 196 lbs., RFr.)