WVU Football Questions Heading Into 2018: Cornerbacks
Before the City of Morgantown schedules the national championship parade for the 2018 Mountaineer football team, Dana Holgorsen’s club had better find some answers to key questions prior to the start of next season.
Admittedly with eight starters back on both offense and defense, West Virginia will head into ’18 with as much experience as its had in many a year. The decisions by quarterback Will Grier, wide receiver David Sills and offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste to put their NFL dreams on hold for one more year and return to WVU for their senior seasons is obviously huge. But still, those three alone won’t take the Mountaineers to the promised land. They certainly are three key pieces to the puzzle, but they’ll need plenty of other help along the way.
Add in running back Kennedy McKoy and wide receivers Marcus Simms and Gary Jennings, and West Virginia has plenty of experienced, skilled players returning on offense. And linebacker David Long is a nice building block for the defense, but what about the others?
Here are the questions I have. We’ll take these in order, looking at a different question in each article.
Questions 1, 2, 3 & 4 – cornerback – OK, I’ve probably gone overboard with this, labeling it questions 1-4, but only a little bit. WVU seemingly has the pieces in place to adequately fill every other opening on this football team, other than cornerback. The Mountaineers were inconsistent defensively this past season. Not all those problems could be laid directly on the shoulders of the cornerbacks, but they were definitely part of the issue. And two of the top three (Mike Daniels and Elijah Battle) were seniors who are graduating.
That leaves just Hakeem Bailey, a junior-to-be, as the only returning corner with starting experience. There are options, as seven scholarship cornerbacks are set to return, but Bailey is the only one with significant experience with the defense. And even Hakeem was far from perfect in 2017, as he was in his first season making the transition from the junior college ranks.
In addition, Kenny Robinson could potentially return to cornerback if the need is great enough, having started three games there earlier in the year. But the Mountaineers would rather keep the sophomore-to-be at his natural position, free safety, if possible.
That leaves WVU to choose from a six pack of other returnees – Jacquez Adams, Jordan Adams, Fontez Davis, Jake Long, Sean Mahone and Kevin Williams – and at least one newcomer, junior college transfer Keith Washington.
Washington and fellow juco DB Joshua Norwood are slated to enroll at WVU for the spring semester, so they’ll join West Virginia for strength and conditioning work this winter and then practice this spring.
Having started his career at Michigan, Washington is a natural corner whose length (6-foot-2, 187 lbs.) should help against the bigger receivers he’ll see in the Big 12. Norwood, who spent the 2015 and ’16 seasons at Ohio State before moving on to Northwest Mississippi C.C., could also play cornerback, but he spent this past year in junior college playing safety, and WVU likes his hard hitting ability at that position. So, like Robinson, Norwood would probably only play corner out of desperation. Washington, though, figures to get plenty of chances at cornerback in the spring, as he’ll battle with the other seven for spots in the rotation.
But West Virginia needs more than just bodies to fill out the rotation. It needs quality cornerbacks, and that’s still a huge question.
With upwards of six scholarships remaining for the class of 2018, the Mountaineers are still actively searching for another quality corner who could play right away. The odds are that wouldn’t be a high schooler, so WVU is still scouring the junior college ranks and will certainly keep a close eye on the grad transfer list when those players are looking for new homes.
And remember, the reason I labeled this questions 1, 2, 3 & 4 is that West Virginia needs to find four corners, not just two, if it wants to adequately stock this position. I’m not sure right now if the WVU coaches have confidence in even one, but it’s a long time before they have to lineup against Tennessee on Sept. 1. But by then, the Mountaineers had better find answers at cornerback, or this weak link will break the West Virginia defense.