WVU Cornerbacks: Veterans, Newcomers In Same Boat
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – At first glance, West Virginia’s situation at cornerback for the 2019 season appears to be a good one. Four lettermen return, including seniors Josh Norwood, Keith Washington, Jordan Adams and Hakeem Bailey. All but Adams played extensively in 2018, and with so much returning experience the position hasn’t been looked at as one of need for the Mountaineers this fall.
However, there’s a flip side. Last year, the Mountaineers gave up 258.7 passing yards per game, which on first blush might not seem like a lot, especially in the pass-happy Big 12. That number, though, put WVU 106th out of 129 teams in Division I. Even though West Virginia was better in that area than Big 12 foes Texas, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma, it’s a number that will need to improve this year if hopes for a bowl game are to be realized. The returnees would seem to have benefited somewhat from the experience they have been through, but the arrival of a new coaching staff has meant a return to square one in some respects.
“Because what we are doing defensively is so different from what they have done in the past, they are all freshmen,” said WVU’s new secondary coach Jahmile Addae said of the figurative experience level of the veterans. “It’s teaching them all the same. The seniors may have more game experience so they may understand physically what they can do, and that’s probably where the difference is.”
So, does that help newcomers, like juco addition Dreshun Miller, who went through spring practice and showed promise, as well as freshmen Nicktroy Fortune and Tavian Mayo, who will arrive in the summer and try to make a dent during fall practice? Again, it’s a two-sided answer.
“The teaching is broken down and compartmentalized so that guys can learn it in a reasonable amount of time. But to say that it’s easy for a freshman corner to come in and be elite would be a lie. I have seen it done, though,” Addae explains. “It depends on two things: their body and physical maturity, and their mental capacity for what they can take in a short amount of time.”
Miller, for his part, took to the coaching well during the spring. Unfortunately, he did not play in the Gold-Blue game, but did show up well in open practice sessions.
“Dreshun is a great athlete. He’s long, and has the physical skill set that we need,” said Addae. “What we are teaching him is different that what he has had in the past. He has come along very well this spring. We hope that he continues to progress. He has worked his butt off.”
That’s also true for WVU’s returning veterans, who are being taught different techniques and reads in the new system. While Addae quite rightly wouldn’t give away any secrets, suffice it to say that corners don’t just line up on the outside receiver and read them all the time, or drop back in a zone and defend only their deep third or quarter of the field.
“Coach Vic (Koenning) is very, very innovative in how he does things, and if pre-snap movement and disguise is a part of that then we have to make sure we are sound and getting to where we need to be,” Addae said. “We try to make everything look like what is not. It’s smoke and mirrors, but being sound with what you are doing once the ball is snapped.”
Addae admits that the dynamic at any position can change when newcomers are added. It did when Miller enrolled in January, although that was a bit muted, because Addae and the new coaching staff were also coming aboard. That reset everything, especially on the defensive side with its new system, but it will be changing again when the rest of the Class of 2019 enrolls in the summer. How will the veterans react to new competition? Will the work they do individually, and in tandem with the rest of the secondary, over the summer help them assimilate those spring lessons?
Then, in the fall, the final question. How quickly might the newcomers be able to help? That’s a query that can’t be answered until at least a week or two into pre-season practice. Just as the returning veterans had to learn the different tactics and techniques in coverages, so too will those newcomers. As Addae notes, it’s all about how quickly they can adapt.
At this point, Addae isn’t concerned about class status or experience in the program, other than if it can help his players perform on the field.
“I could care less what they are – junior college, high school, whatever. Once they get here, they are mine and we are going to develop them and produce elite players who play sound football,” he emphasized. “At the end of the day we are going to play the best ones. That’s this game, that’s life. You have to compete. You want a wife, you have to compete. You want a job, you have to compete. You want a football job, you have to compete. I think these guys are going to compete their butts off.”