MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — If there’s a theme arising from the defensive side of West Virginia’s spring practice, it’s simplicity rules.
Or, to flip the perspective, that last season’s scheme under Steve Patterson became too complicated.
New defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, while a believer in the principles Patterson preached, was bound to enact some of his own modifications. So far he sounds intent upon boiling down responsibilities in an attempt to clear players’ minds.
“Last year, (the defense) was too multiple,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said Saturday. “It was still an odd (front) defense, but we were doing too many different things. The one thing Tony has done a good job with is getting it a little more simplified.”
After only nine spring practices, Gibson said the Mountaineers have nearly completed their new installations. Once that is finished on Monday, he notes: “We’ll have five practices left to get it cleaned up.”
That allows players to spend their summer sessions and preseason camp in refinement mode.
“When we come back in August, we’re not adding,” Gibson said. “We’re not having a week-to-week type of adding different things and new game plans. We have what we have, and we’re going to try to get good at it and execute at a high level.”
If that feels a tad unsophisticated and vulnerable, consider that many of the no-huddle offenses in the Big 12 are predicated on keeping defenses simple.
“When you really study the fast-tempo offenses, when they’re going full-speed, they can’t do a whole lot either,” Gibson said. “They want to run zones and bubbles (screens), and we’re going to be able to react to that because we’re going to be lined up with our feet set and our eyes in the right spot.”
Junior Ricky Rumph was slotted ahead of sophomore Jeremy Tyler at strong safety, a change from West Virginia’s previous open practice in Wheeling one week ago. Then again, in the case of the tightest position battles, coaches are consistently rotating players up and down the depth chart.
“Him and Jeremy Tyler are battling it out,” Gibson said. “It’s probably going to continue throughout spring and probably throughout camp, until one of them rises above the other.”
Rumph played corner as a true freshman before shifting to nickel back last fall, where he felt he matched up better against slot receivers. Though he never cracked the starting lineup and missed time with a foot injury, Rumph appeared in nine games.
“He was a high school basketball player who only played a couple years of football, but he’s very athletic and good on his feet, great ball skills,” Gibson said. “We just have to find a home for Ricky, leave him at one spot and keep bringing him along.”
Defensive end Kyle Rose missed Saturday’s practice because of what coaches described as “family responsibilities.” The first-unit defensive line included Eric Kinsey and Noble Nwachuku at ends with Christian Brown at nose guard. Dontrill Hyman also saw plenty of reps at end, with Darrien Howard working as the No. 2 at nose.
The linebackers remained Isaiah Bruce and Brandon Golson on the outside with Nick Kwiatkoski manning the middle. KJ Dillon was at the Spur/nickle spot with Karl Joseph at free safety. The cornerbacks were Daryl Worley and Icky Banks, guys who appear locked into starting roles.
“Daryl Worley just keeps getting better and better every day,” Gibson said. “He’s probably the kid right now that makes you say ‘Wow.’”
The second unit linebackers featured redshirt freshman Al-Rasheed Benton in the middle—looking leaner than last fall—with Sean Walters and Edward Muldrow at the outside spots.
The top backups in the secondary were cornerbacks Nana Kyeremeh and Brandon Napoleon, with Jarrod Harper and Tyler at safeties and Dayron Wilson at Spur.