Sunday, October 23, 2016

Contributor: Spring Game: Just a measuring stick

Charleston, W.Va- Around 6,000 people attended the Gold-Blue game this past Saturday in White Sulphur Springs and the theme of the game? The defense has a long way to go. Hold on a second. Spring games are used by coaches to gauge how the players are performing with the offense or defense. Young guys can emerge, older guys can under perform, walk-ons could receive scholarships. Some might feel the Spring game is just a glorified scrimmage. Spring games could look one way and the regular season when it counts, could look like the opposite.

The defense lost nine guys and Defensive Coordinator Tony Gibson is certainly looking for players to step up their playing abilities. Especially on the outside where at times guys are left on an island in man coverage in Gibson’s blitz heavy 3-3-5 stack defense. Consistency with man coverage has been spotty throughout the Spring according to Gibson.

“We have to be able to play man and I think we struggle at times giving up the deep ball,” Gibson said. “People know we’re going to blitz them and throw the ball quick. We have to be able to get to the ball quick and make the tackles.” Sure, the offense looks great, as it should. Skyler Howard is a senior, coming off a remarkable bowl performance against Arizona State in the Cactus Bowl, the offensive line is providing protection, running backs are producing, and the roster is loaded with wide receiver talent.

Certainly, Gibson is going back to the basics with new players occupying positions at linebacker, safety, and corner. Even though the defense lacks starting experience, they have numerous athletes who have seen plenty of minutes in Big 12 competition. Running down the list; starting at the defensive line with the returning Big 12 sack leader Noble Nwachwuku. Noble will bring the type of pressure and grit from the end we haven’t seen since Bruce Irvin. You add Darrien Howard at nose tackle and Christian Brown at the other end, the WVU defensive line is the strength of the defense. This will be key to helping out the corners in forcing quick throws from the opposing quarterback that could lead to turnover opportunities. Now looking at the corner back position Nana Kyeremeh and Rasul Douglas. Both guys look to solidify their position at the corner and both bring the grit, size, and hustle needed to become an immediate impact. Do not count out the Miami transfer Antonio Crawford at corner, the redshirt senior played in all 13 games his Junior season with the Hurricanes and looked quick and determined forcing quarterback Skyler Howard into his only pick of the day at the Gold Blue Spring Game.  Moving over to Safety, Karl Joseph was a huge piece at the safety position but a guy like Jeremy Tyler who stepped in during Joseph’s absence could be a huge surprise this fall and we will surely miss what Joseph brought on the field but Tyler’s experience and abilities should allow him to make an impact early as well.  Finally, a guy who made his first career start at WVU against Alabama, Dravon Askew-Henry. Askew-Henry is a sure NFL talent, who will not only be the anchor for the secondary but an anchor for this entire defense. Askew-Henry should be an All American at the end of this season. The biggest question for me and will remain a question, who replaces KJ Dillion at Spur? The guy did it so well for three years at WVU.

Mountaineer fans, take a breath, relax, and repeat after me. It’s just spring. Again, It’s just spring. There is a reason Tony Gibson was brought back to WVU. Outside the fact the Van native loves being in Morgantown, Gibson’s resume speaks for itself. The numbers we saw last year could be chalked up to talent, which goes a long way, of course, but coaching is huge in college football. Gibson coaches his kids up, he inspires them, and elevates their game. The players WVU lost on defense will be a huge hit going into this season but leave no doubt coach Gibson will have his kids ready to go come this fall. So again, Mountaineer fans, Spring football is fun to follow, watch, and report on, but Spring football is simply a measuring stick.



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