MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — What began as a trial run for Ricky Rumph at nickel back became a full-fledged position switch this week when the sophomore cornerback shifted to strong safety.
At the spot known as Bandit, the sophomore is now understudying senior Darwin Cook, and despite a season-ending injury to cornerback Nana Kyeremeh in the interim, coaches said there are no immediate plans to move Rumph back.
“We’re looking at who can help us right now, and Ricky does a great job covering people,” said West Virginia safeties coach Tony Gibson. “We’re trying to get the best guys on the field.”
Though Rumph didn’t make a start as a true freshman, he was on the field at cornerback in several key situations. Even on a defense as bad as WVU’s was, that was quite an accomplishment, considering Rumph played only two years of high school football.
He was among the eight players who began preseason camp competing at cornerback and figured to be among the upper half of that group. Then came a surprise call from cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell last Tuesday.
“I didn’t expect it coming, but I told my coach ‘Yes, sir, I don’t mind moving.’ It’s part of football,” Rumph said. “We’ve all got to be ready for change. I’m all about the team, so whatever helps the team, that’s what I’m up for.”
Now down to six scholarship players at cornerback, Mitchell wasn’t panicking. With the season opener three weeks away, it wasn’t feasible to continue giving reps to all eight players anyway, and the position remains adequately stocked as long as WVU has five solid players for the travel squad.
While Mitchell has declined to identify anything resembling a pecking order for his cornerbacks, the competition appears to be so even that Rumph’s football IQ made him versatile enough to move.
“We thought we could move a young man that was heady and could do a number of things … from a position (cornerback) where we have three guys that were very similar in ability,” Mitchell said.
Rumph acknowledged part of his job at safety is “to make the starter better,” and to that end he’s both pushing and learning from third-year starter Cook.
“I’m looking up to Cook,” Rumph said. “He’s been here and he’s played and he’s got good experience.”
Because WVU’s safeties all go 200 pounds or bigger, the 185-pound Rumph can work on gaining weight. That stands in contrast from last season, when he played at 188 before then-cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts cautioned that he was “getting too big.”
After only a few practices adjusting to safety, Rumph said he seems to have a knack for covering smaller, slot receivers.
“It just seems easier than guarding the big receivers on the outside,” said Rumph, who drew quick praise from free safety Karl Joseph. “Karl told me ‘You look like a corner playing safety because your footwork’s tight.'”