Who’s The Bandit? WVU Seeks Identity
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – West Virginia faces a choice at several positions in its game against Kansas on Saturday. Continue with rotations that it has been forced to employ due to injuries, or go back to the alignments that it used to start the season? Or, perhaps, a combination of the two?
Just as we detailed along the offensive line, there’s a decision to be made at bandit. Toyous Avery’s apparent hand injury caused a position switch last week, with senior Marvin Gross switching from his longtime spot at spur to fill that gap, at least on a part-time basis. Going in to the game, he was slated to alternate series with true freshman Derrek Pitts. The thinking was that by not throwing Pitts out on each possession, the pressure on him might be lessened. Allowed to catch his breath, review and watch on every other possession, he wouldn’t be under the gun on every snap.
In order to execute that move, WVU needed another bandit, so it went with Gross, who has almost as much time in this defense at WVU as coordinator Tony Gibson. He could, the thinking went, provide stability and a model for Pitts to watch.
As luck would have it, Gross was on the field when Delaware State unleashed a play designed to take advantage of West Virginia’s aggressiveness. It resulted in a long touchdown, and some unfair criticism of Gross, who was otherwise praised by the coaching staff for being able to execute the move and play well overall despite just a few days of practice
“Marvin has been around long enough and there are lot of similarities between the spur and bandit positions,” safeties coach Matt Caponi noted. “That first blown assignment was bad coaching on my part and not getting Marvin prepared as well as I should have for that certain formation. I thought after that first play he settled down and played a good game for it being his first time at the position.”
Fair enough. But WVU has also made the decision to play Pitts as a true freshman, so it wants to get him experience and enjoy the talent that he brings to the field as well.
“We felt to get our best guys on the field and split reps [was the best],” Caponi confirmed. “There’s never a problem with Derrek from an effort standpoint in playing hard or practicing hard. I know that’s what he’s going to give us. He played hard.
With Avery returning to practice, and hopefully to the field this Saturday, Caponi and the defensive staff have to figure out a way to continue to get Pitts some time, but without compromising that “best on the field” ideal. It’s not a bad problem to have, as the coaches now have multiple players that they can fit into different roles, including passing down defenses. Prior to Avery’s injury, both Pitts and Gross has slots in those sets. And if one player has a bad sequence or needs a break, another can step in.
When Avery returns, Gross would figure to move aside to some of those other roles, allowing Pitts to be the backup, although likely not in a one-for-one alternating role. It also has to help that Gross has some snaps at bandit to fall back on. It’s an interesting item to watch against Kansas, as it will likely set the blueprint for WVU through the rest of the Big 12 season.