Verbal View: Joshua Norwood to WVU
West Virginia’s addition of a cornerback with Division I experience to its 2018 roster will help offset the exodus of corners following this season, but the question, as always, with junior college players bouncing back to the top tier of play is in how quickly, and how effectively, they will be able to help.
Joshua Norwood has the ability to play in tight coverage, as evidenced by his most recent game at Northwest Mississippi Community College. Playing against the #1 ranked Lions, Norwoood had ten tackles and an interception. The most telling fact of that stat, though, is that of the six tackles he made on pass completions, three went for just five, four and three yards.
Norwood has played both corner and safety for the Rangers, but will get an immediate look at the former at WVU, which must replace Corey Winfield, Elijah Battle and Mike Daniels at the position. Winfield has played only minimally in 2017, but Daniels is a starter and Battle a top reserve, so there will be playing time up for grabs in 2018. His ability to transition from junior college, even with an expected spring arrival at West Virginia, will be critical.
There’s also the question of his departure from Ohio State, where it appeared that he wasn’t in the Buckeyes’ plans for this year. Although he never publicly stated a reason for leaving Columbus, it looked as though he was moving down the depth chart after two years on campus, which included a redshirt season in 2015 and some backup time in 2016. Has he improved over the course of his junior college season to the point where he can help the Mountaineer secondary? His play at Northwest Mississippi has been very good so far, and includes 31 tackles and four passes defensed (three breakups and an interception) in the six completed games to date. (The Rangers’ season opener against Hinds was suspended in the fourth quarter due to heavy rain and power outages, so stats from that contest are not included.)
On video, the 2014 Region 1AAAAAA high school defensive player of the year excels at baiting throws that he then reacts to quickly. He comes off his assigned receiver to make plays on passes to other receivers in the area, and his break and drive on the ball is excellent. He employs a sideways stance in coverage off the line, rather than a squared up look, but makes it work by keeping his back to the sideline, which permits better vision of the field, including both his receiver and the quarterback. That may have to change when he gets back to WVU, but it may be a violation of convention that works better for him.
Against the run, and against receivers with the ball, Norwood breaks down well into tackling position and can dish out physical hits. Wrapping up is an issue at times, and something that he will have to be more consistent with, but he doesn’t appear to be a liability in the run game. In blitzes off the corner, he breaks down to diagnose the play rather than just sprinting madly for the quarterback which makes him more efficient no matter what the play call.
Norwood also shows solid play on high school punt returns, displaying the ability to begin the return and read blocks while waiting for a seam to develop. He is a one-cut and get upfield type a runner, and might not make a lot of cover men miss, but he could provide a stable option for the return game. Having a defender as a punt returner offers two advantages — it keeps a regular defensive player on the field in case of a fake, and it also gives an offensive starter, such as the wide receivers WVU currently employs as punt returners, an additional play off before they have to return to the field. He has not yet run back punts in junior college.
Norwood’s addition gives WVU 18 verbal commitments in the Class of 2018. With the inclusion of transfer placekicker Skyler Simcox as an initial counter, West Virginia has room for no more than six additional verbal commitments in this class, and fewer if it wants to add additional scholarship transfers prior to the start of next season.