MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–The West Virginia University secondary shined last season but it’s going through a major rebuilding phase with the departures of Karl Joseph, KJ Dillon, Terrell Chestnut, Rick Rumph and Daryl Worley.
Junior safety Dravon Askew-Henry is the only returning starter for the Mountaineers, which means the coaching staff has a lot of work to do.
“Right now, we are working on depth and experience,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “The guy with the most snaps in his career so far would be (redshirt senior cornerback) Nana (Kyeremeh). It might not even be a 100 yet. That is the crucial spot. We have four guys coming in that will be able to throw into it. What has to happen, we have to have guys that can cover, because I like to blitz.”
The cornerbacks position was truly depleted after last season but new cornerbacks coach Blue Adams sees the challenges ahead and is prepared to get his players to where they need to be.
“Just experience, just the looks (is the biggest challenge),” he said. “The difference between a veteran and a rookie, a freshman and a senior is looks, the number of times you have seen those snaps. So that’s just what it is. You get in a 100 plays in practice where you are actually getting guys that look that they need to take them over from being a sophomore more mentally to a junior because of where he is at in his development stage. So, it’s good. You got to stay on them though, got to stay on young guys because they get a little success ad now they’ve arrived.”
At times, the corners look brilliant and then sometimes they look less than stellar.
“Some guys are doing some great things,” Adams said. “You got some other guys that are not doing some great things and you just continue to push the envelope. Continue to coach them and make them better. Right when you got a guy pegged, okay this is where he is going to be, another guy makes a spectacular play and now you got to re-evaluate the whole group. And that’s what’s been great about it is guys are constantly raising the bar and getting us better. So until that last guy is where you want from a production skill set standpoint, those guys will continue to leap each other until we become great.”
Currently, WVU doesn’t have the one or two players that standout.
“Right now we are a position by committee,” Adams said. “There is no go that I can peg and say this is my work horse. He is the guy that is going to do it for me. So right now we are kind of a position by committee and we will continue to chip away at it until either I get four or five guys that I can rest my head on or it’s fine by me if we are just position by committee.”
Redshirt senior Nana Kyeremeh is one of the guys hoping to make an impact at the corner position. This spring he was just trying to get better.
“I wanted to get better,” Kyeremeh said. “We lost five or six guys on defense, so we all had to step up. I have to be able to step up and make plays, and I have to be able to get better every day. I am working hard, and I am working with the coaches in order to make those improvements this semester.”
The safety position took a big hit with the loss of Joseph and Dillon but Askew-Henry is ready to step into the leader role.
“I feel more comfortable now,” he said. “I feel like I am mature, and I am just ready to get at it. I want to be that leader I have to be this year.”
The junior safety knows that he has to be the leader both in the locker room and on the field.
“I have to be vocal, but I want to lead by my actions,” Askew-Henry added.
And going up against the Mountaineers’ fiery receiving core will only make the safeties better.
“It’s great,” Askew-Henry said. “We go at it with (redshirt junior wide receiver) Shelton (Gibson), (senior wide receiver) Daikiel (Shorts Jr.) and (redshirt junior wide receiver) Ka’Raun (White). I promise you, we will probably have one of the best wide receiving in the Big 12 this year with Shelton, Daikiel and Ka’Raun.
Redshirt junior Marvin Gross is hoping to step in and fill a void at the SPUR position left by the loss of Dillon. After playing linebacker in high school, he moved into the backup role at SPUR last season but Gross hasn’t quite earned the starting role just yet.
“He’s doing OK. At times it gets to be a little much for him,” Gibson said. “The kid was a defensive end in high school, a linebacker for his first couple of years here, and now we’re putting him in coverage a lot.
“He’s learning, and he’s done a really good job up to this point. He’s going to be a guy that we can use at certain times…We like the way he’s come along, and he just needs to keep getting better…Obviously fall camp is going to be crucial for him.”
JUCO transfer Kyzir White is likely to battle Gross for the starting gig once he enrolls in school.
And Senior Jeremy Tyler has been the top player at bandit safety this spring.
There is a lot of question marks heading into summer and fall for the WVU secondary but fans will get a chance to see just how they are shaping together as spring comes to a close on Saturday during the annual Gold-Blue Spring Game.