West Virginia Football’s Biggest Strengths In 2019: No. 3 – Cornerback
(Editor’s Note – We previously took a look at West Virginia’s top 10 biggest question marks heading into the 2019 football season. In the second half of this series, we turn our attention to what we perceive to be the top 10 strengths of Neal Brown’s first Mountaineer squad.)
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3. Cornerbacks – Neal Brown’s first Mountaineer football team is a fairly young one.
His current roster features 19 seniors, 31 juniors, 20 sophomores, 20 redshirt freshmen and 22 true freshmen.
West Virginia does have experience at one position, though, where it is awfully nice to have veterans in a pass happy league like the Big 12 – cornerback.
WVU recently sacrificed its most experienced corner, Josh Norwood, moving him to safety to help fill voids left by the departures of Kenny Robinson and Derrek Pitts. But the Mountaineers still have a pair of veteran cornerbacks in seniors Hakeem Bailey and Keith Washington, as well as a number of promising newcomers.
Norwood (5-10, 179 lbs., Sr.) started 11 games last season for WVU after transferring from Northwest Mississippi Community College. He finished third on the Mountaineers in tackles with 64, which leads all returnees. He also recorded a team-high 11 pass deflections. But the Valdosta, Georgia, native, who spent his first two collegiate seasons at Ohio State, also played safety in the past, so when the need arose, Brown and his staff decided to move him to the cat safety position in Vic Koenning’s 4-2-5 defensive scheme.
The switch was made possible because Bailey and Washington remain available for the two starting cornerback jobs.
If the safety experiment doesn’t work out, Norwood can always move back to corner. But with the idea of getting the best five defensive backs – three safeties and two corners – on the field together at the same time, it makes sense to get Norwood into the mix with fellow safeties JoVanni Stewart and Dante Bonamico and cornerbacks Bailey and Washington.
Bailey, a six-foot, 192-pound senior who is a native of Atlanta, spent two years at Iowa Western C.C., redshirting one of them, before arriving at WVU as a sophomore in 2017. He played in 11 games that fall, starting three of them, in which he recorded 35 tackles and had six pass breakups. Then-Mountaineer defensive coordinator Tony Gibson continually said the one thing that Bailey lacked was confidence, and he improved in that area in 2018, when he started six games, finished with 42 tackles and had one interception. A 2018 Academic All-Big 12 First-Team honoree, Bailey now steps onto a stage where he has to perform at a consistent level.
Washington, a 6-foot-1, 178-pound senior from Prattville, Alabama, spent his first two years of college at the University of Michigan, before he sought a reset. He moved to Copiah-Lincoln Community College in 2017 before transferring to WVU in January of 2018. He started seven games for the Mountaineers last season and amassed 40 tackles and three interceptions. His pick-six interception late at Texas Tech preserved West Virginia’s 42-34 victory. Washington was rewarded at season’s end by being named honorable mention all-Big 12.
In a cornerback unit now coached by former WVU safety Jahmile Addae (2001-05), Washington and Bailey are the lead dogs, but obviously it takes more than two corners to hold up in a conference like the Big 12. Koenning will likely use three cornerbacks on the field at the same time in various sub packages, and normally a third, and hopefully a fourth, can be used in a regular rotation situation in an attempt to keep at least two fresh.
Dreshun Miller (6-1, 190 lbs., Jr.) could push either Bailey and Washington for a starting job and at the very least, he figures to be a valuable backup behind them. An all-Western States Football League performer at Eastern Arizona College in 2018, when he recorded 44 tackles and 12 pass breakups, Miller enrolled at WVU last January and thus was able to start learning the new defensive scheme in the spring. Having picked West Virginia over an offer list that also included LSU, Auburn, Kentucky and Houston, the Kennesaw, Georgia, native seems to have the skills to greatly enhance the Mountaineers’ play at the cornerback position.
Further depth for the Mountaineers at cornerback will likely come from a trio of true freshmen – Nicktroy Fortune (6-0, 187 lbs.), Tae Mayo (5-10, 161 lbs.) and Tacorey Turner (6-2, 185 lbs.). Fortune and Mayo (whose given first name if Tavian, but who goes by Tae), are each natives of Georgia who picked WVU over offers from the likes of Georgia Tech, Iowa State, Nebraska, Maryland, N.C. State and plenty of others. They’ll likely both get a chance to show their talents as true freshmen, because while the cornerback position at West Virginia this year shows plenty of experience at the top of the two-deep, it admittedly could use more depth, and that’s where the younger corners will come in.
Previously In The Series