At times last year, the West Virginia secondary hit the field with only one healthy, experienced cornerback and one healthy, experienced safety on the roster. Due to injuries, poor recruiting under the previous regime and just plain bad luck, the Mountaineers were struggling to find bodies to defend against the pass.
Cook is embracing the new defensive scheme.
This year, even with the recent loss of Nana Kyeremeh for the season, depth is looking like a strong suit for West Virginia.
“Defensively, we do have a number of guys that have played quite a bit,” said cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell. “A lot of freshman had to play last year and a ton of sophomores had to play last year…. Right now, we do have depth, and if we can go into the season with five (cornerbacks) that can do exactly what we are asking them to do, I think we are going to be in great shape.”
That depth extends to the safety position as well, and it’s something that has resulted in intense practice sessions during fall camp.
“Everybody is always on their ‘A’ game,” said safety K.J. Dillon. “They know that if they slip up, someone right behind them is going to be ready to fill in. Everybody is trying to get on the field, so once that competition steps up, everyone is going to bring their ‘A’ game.”
More important than depth, though, is the secondary moving past last year’s debacle where the defense ranked as one of the worst in the country and was easily the worst in school history, allowing over 38 points per game.
“It’s just a new beginning,” said safety Karl Joseph. “We just forget about last season. Last season doesn’t matter. What happened last year is done with, so we are just focusing on this season.”
Part of what came with the clean slate mentality was a new set of coaches for the Mountaineers. Brian Mitchell replaced Daron Roberts at cornerbacks coach, Tony Gibson replaced Joe DeForest at safeties coach and Keith Patterson took the play-calling duties from DeForest as defensive coordinator.
That final piece of the puzzle is giving some veterans their third defense in three years, but at least one of them feels it’s the best move for the team.
“It’s a combination of both defenses I’ve been a part of – the 3-3-5 and the defense we ran last year,” said senior Darwin Cook. “We’re taking the best parts out of both of the defenses and incorporating them and bringing them into one. I feel like they’re doing a great job with it.”