WVU Football Questions For 2018: Safety
Question 9 – Safeties – Filling the shoes of departing spur safety Kyzir White admittedly will be hard. A second-team all-Big 12 selection, White was second on the team in tackles this past year with 94, and his three interceptions equaled Kenning Robinson for the squad’s most.
WVU also loses White’s backup Marvin Gross and walk-on Shane Commodore, both of whom were especially valuable on special teams. But other than those three graduating seniors, West Virginia returns a nice mix of veterans and promising youngsters at the three safety positions.
y the end of the 2017 season, the Mountaineers had settled into a first-team unit that featured White at the spur, along with true freshman Kenny Robinson at free safety and junior Dravon Askew-Henry at the bandit. Robinson, who finished sixth on the team in tackles with 46, actually started several games early in the year at cornerback, but he switched to free safety in week nine and started there the rest of the way. While Robinson, a 6-foot-2, 202-pound sophomore-to-be, could conceivably move back to corner if necessary, WVU’s coaches believe his future is brightest at safety, so that’s probably where he’ll remain.
The juggling of Robinson came about because of injuries and inconsistency at the bandit safety position. Toyous Avery was the starting bandit early in the season, but a variety of injuries hampered his play and at times took him completely out of the lineup. He wound up playing in eight games, starting five of them, but amassed just 20 tackles. That’s less than the year before when as a first-year transfer from Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College, he was primarily a backup but had 24 tackles.
Avery will be a senior in 2018, and if healthy, he’s likely ticketed for a starting job again. The question is where. He played mainly free safety in 2016 and was a bandit last year. Without him in ’17, West Virginia’s safety shuffle took Askew-Henry, who had started the first 34 games of his college career at free safety, and moved him to bandit. And Robinson wound up starting at free. In WVU’s 3-3-5 odd-stack defense, the bandit and free safety are basically interchangeable, while the spur position calls for someone who is a little bigger and more physical, like Kyzir, who checked in at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds. Askew-Henry (6-foot, 195 pounds) and Avery (5-foot-11 and 204 pounds) are each big enough to move over to spur if asked, but neither has played the position to this point in their career. Both are experienced seniors-to-be, though. Askew-Henry, who was fourth on the team in tackles last year with 57, has not only played in but also started 39 games in his WVU career. Other than missing the entire 2016 season because of a knee injury, he’s been on the field for the opening snap of every contest since arriving at West Virginia from Aliquippa, Pa., in 2014. His 161 career tackles will be more than any other returning Mountaineer, and senior-to-be wide receiver Gary Jennings is the only other current WVU players who has seen action as many career games (39).
So, Askew-Henry, Avery and Robinson may form the starting safety trio, though who plays spur would then be the question.
West Virginia has some other promising young safeties who could potentially fill the spur spot, and will definitely need to provide depth across the board.
Of the returnees, sophomore-to-be Derrek Pitts, junior-to-be Jovanni Stewart, sophomore-to-be Osman Kamara, junior-to-be Deamonte Lindsay and sophomore-to-be Dante Bonimico all saw a good bit of game action this past season, though most of it was on special teams. All of them figure tp push for a spot on the two-deep in 2018. Stewart is the only one who has started a game in the past, taking over for an injured Avery at bandit midway through the ’17 season. But that experiment didn’t work well, and a change was quickly made, where Robinson was moved to free and Askew-Henry to bandit. If improved, Stewart could battle for a starting job, and Pitt, the highly-ballyhooed prospect from South Charleston (W.Va.) High School who played as a true freshman this past season, also seems poised for an increased role on defense.
After those experienced returnees, West Virginia also has a trio of youngsters on campus who could factor in. E.J. Brown (5-foot-11, 199 pounds), Collins Smith (6-foot, 200 pounds) and Ricky Johns (6-foot-3, 197 pounds) were all true freshmen this past season who were redshirted. Exree Loe was another true freshman who was slot at safety when he arrived last summer, but he recently was moved to linebacker. Brown, Smith and Johns all could to get into the mix in 2018. Smith, who was limited in practice work this past fall because of an injury, hopefully will be healthy enough to participate in spring drills. He is slated for free safety or bandit. Johns and Brown are better fits at spur. Johns, who is a product North Wales, Pa., which is a suburb of Philadelphia, has the length and athleticism the coaches like at the position. Brown, who comes from outside of Atlanta, isn’t as big in stature but is big in terms of hitting prowess, which was a hallmark of the spur position in the Karl Joseph days. If veterans Askew-Henry or Avery don’t take over a starting spur role this spring, Johns and Brown are likely the next two top prospects in line at the spur.
Two newcomers also could factor into West Virginia’s safety plans in 2018. Joshua Norwood arrived on WVU’s campus this month, having transferred in from Northwest Mississippi Community College. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound native of Valdosta, Ga., started his college career at Ohio State, but after two years in Columbus (one as a redshirt), he sought more playing time elsewhere with a stop first in junior college. Though Norwood has played cornerback in the past – and could again in the future – he was a safety this last year at NWMCC, where he had 71 tackles and was a first-team all-region honoree. His career may eventually lead him back to corner, but WVU coaches like him best at safety because he’s a big hitter. His size isn’t optimum for a spur, but he has the physical nature the position requires.
The Mountaineers’ spur of the future very will could still be residing in Aliquippa, Pa., right now. Kwantel Raines is a highly-regarded, 6-foot-3, 206-pound safety prospect who spurned offers from a who’s who list that included Pitt, Penn State, Florida, LSU, etc., to sign with West Virginia, following other Quips like Askew-Henry and Jaleel Fields to Morgantown. Physically Raines looks a lot like Kyzir White, and eventually WVU hopes he’ll play that way as well. A four-star product rated as one of the top 300 players in the nation in this year’s recruiting class, Raines would seem to be a perfect fit at spur. But that’s a tough starting spot for a true freshman. Askew-Henry was a starting free safety from his first game as a true freshman – which happened to be against Alabama – so there is some precedence.