Freshman Linebacker’s Play On Point In WVU Defense
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – If there’s a player who always seems to be in the right place at the right time it’s Dylan Tonkery.
The redshirt freshman linebacker has solidified WVU’s weakside spot once thought vulnerable after the injury to David Long, and brought both a consistency and sense of physical play. The Bridgeport High grad is rarely out of position, and has flashed excellent fundamentals and a nose for the ball. That was especially true in the 59-16 win over Delaware State on Saturday. Tonkery finished with four tackles, all solo, and his first career sack.
He’s also showing increasing signs of settling into the scheme and system, one which fits Tonkery’s skill set and natural tenacity well.
“Three games down now and I’m starting to get comfortable,” Tonkery said. “I’m starting to play football, make a few more plays than I have in the past. (The first home game) I was so excited. I have been watching these guys play out there for six years. This was a settle-down game. I wanted to get out and play again.”
Tonkery routinely harassed DSU’s quarterback, regardless of it it was starter Jack McDaniels or back-up Keenan Black. He has pressure the pocket all day, but hadn’t seen the personal stat sheet benefit until the third quarter. With the Hornets driving inside WVU territory, coordinator Tony Gibson turned Tonkery loose on a second and third and long. The linebacker nearly nabbed McDaniels for a sack on second and nine, getting credit for a QB hurry.
With Delaware State in the same formation on third down, Gibson unleashed Tonkery again. This time the blitz hit home, Tonkery taking McDaniels to the turf for a six-yard loss. That brought up yet another fourth down for DSU, which punted the ball away as WVU’s defense got off the field effectively for the eighth time in 10 third down tries.
“(Gibson) called that play two times in a row,” Tonkery said. “They didn’t block me on the first one, and I almost got a sack. Second play, the same formation, same everything, so I was pretty positive I was going to get it. I was happy when he called it because I was like ‘I’m probably going to get this sack on this play.'”
It gave Tonkery his third tackle for loss this season, and the first-year starter has generated at least one negative yardage play for WVU’s defense every game this season as the Mountaineers continue to build toward the more imposing sections of the Big 12 schedule.
“He’s disciplined,” Gibson said. “He’s disciplined, he’s smart, he’s tough. Not afraid to stick his face in there and hit somebody. I like him a lot.”
It’s little wonder, Tonkery having taken over a prime spot on the defense and kept it at nearly the same level as Long, whom Gibson has said was arguably the best player on West Virginia’s defense a season ago. Long, a sophomore, is still recovering from a meniscus injury suffered during summer conditioning, but could return as early as this weekend in the conference road opener at Kansas.
“When David got hurt, we didn’t really know who it would be,” Tonkery said. “As time went on we sort of narrowed it down to me, and I feel good now. That’s great. It’s always good to have depth. Having depth is a big part of football. The big teams all have depth; somebody goes down and they put someone else in right away. They know that person will do their job. I’m always in the position I need to be in. I don’t think I have any missed assignments. Most of the time when I’m out there I know what play they were going to run.”
Tonkery also noted he wasn’t concerned, even when Delaware State managed a big passing play that tied the game at 7-7 early in the first quarter. That proved accurate, as WVU held the Hornets to just three meaningful points the rest of the way. The Mountaineers allowed 220 yards of offense after that initial possession, and clamped down as expected on the lower-level FCS foe.
“That was just a busted play,” Tonkeery said. “That’s all it was. They ran a lot of zones. I wasn’t too worried about them. I knew we were fine. Knew as soon as we got back to the sideline we were going to get it fixed. I wasn’t worried. I’m excited. I’ve been looking forward to getting out of nonconference play and getting into the Big 12.”