David Long’s meniscus injury will be a big blow for the West Virginia defense for at least the first month of the season. Knee injuries have become a commonplace theme for West Virginia, especially on the defensive side of the ball, so you can bet Tony Gibson has a plan.
Let’s take a look at what that plan could consist of.
The rumor is that Long has been out since summer workouts in June. If that’s true, then that gives plenty of first-team reps to someone else and gives plenty of time to get into a first-team mentality for the position.
Adam Hensley could be the most entertaining option at this point. Hensley was actually used in action a season ago — mainly on special teams — in six games. A rangy 6-foot-2, 230-pounder, Hensley has grabbed the coaches’ attention since showing up on campus, but he was behind so many linebackers a season ago. Now, though, could be his time to shine.
Behind Long in the spring at the weakside linebacker spot, though, was Dylan Tonkery. The Bridgeport native put on 12 pounds this offseason and is playing at around 230, more of a linebacker weight than a safety weight, where he played during his redshirt season a year ago. Tonkery, a running back in high school, provides the quickness and athletic ability that Long brought to the position maybe better than anyone on the roster, but he lacks collegiate experience outside of scout team work.
A sizable option could be Quondarius Qualls, a JUCO transfer who has been in since the spring. Despite an inconsistent spring, Qualls brings a pedigree of getting to the quarterback. At Northwest Mississippi, Qualls played in 12 games, leading the team in tackles for loss (16.5), sacks (10), quarterback hurries (13) and ranking third in tackles (67). JUCO experience is experience, but it doesn’t stack up to being on the field against Virginia Tech in the season opener.
On paper, the best option, though, would be to move Brendan Ferns from the inside backer spot to the WILL. Ferns was initially playing outside last year but moved inside to spell Al-Rasheed Benton before suffering his own season-ending knee injury. Since being out, Ferns has put on 16 pounds and has come along quicker than expected in his recovery. Toward the end of spring practice, he was back to impressing coaches on the field. Moving Ferns back outside would shuffle some things for the first month, making Benton take more snaps. But if there’s one guy on the field you want to be out there that much, it’s probably Benton.
No matter what, Long will be tough to replace. But Gibson has shown the ability to think on his feet and put guys into the right spot to have them replace guys. I mean, he’s had to do it plenty over the last few years, right?
Someone with limited or zero collegiate game experience is going to have to step up. But the good thing is, there will have been about three months to get the group ready for life without Long for about four games.
(Feature Photo Credit: USA Today)