MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Someday soon, on an NFL defense, Kyzir White might line up at safety or outside linebacker.
Next season, on West Virginia’s defense, he’ll be counted upon to play both.
With eight starters graduated, and the medical staff yet to grant free safety Dravon Askew-Henry a full-go return from ACL surgery, White looms as one of the few known components for defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.
At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, White once again will man the Spur safety, a hybrid spot demanding the physicality to take on offensive linemen and the mobility to cover receivers in the deep third. In 2016, West Virginia coaches essentially pegged White for the position even before he arrived from Lackawanna College in the summer.
He did not disappoint, save for a series of dropped interceptions that left Gibson teasing White about not having the hands of his brothers Kevin and Ka’Raun, or even their younger sister Kiyae, an Auburn basketball signee.
White still had a hand in some turnovers. He forced two fumbles, one of them a neck-snapping sack of Texas quarterback Shane Buechele in the red zone.
“He about murdered that kid,” Gibson said.
White’s full-season totals: 58 tackles, three sacks, seven TFLs, and 12 starts. (Oh, and zero interviews, because Dana Holgorsen hasn’t allowed him to speak with the media.) His lone missed game, the regular-season finale against Baylor, was the result of a broken hand that healed enough for him to play in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Accustomed to lining up in multiple spots in Gibson’s 3-3-5 defense, White blitzes off the edge and is strong enough to work through interior stunts. He’s also a capable tackler in space, providing NFL scouts with multiple options.
“He runs well for a big guy for what we do, but to play at the next level as a safety, he’d have to work on his overall speed,” said Mountaineers safeties coach Matt Caponi. “He’s really built like an outside linebacker.”
This spring’s emphasis — elevating White from a very good defender into a great one — requires improving his man coverage skills and making pre-snap adjustments become second nature.
“Depending on what leverage you play, what hand do you jam with? When to open your hips? When can I flat-foot? It’s understanding down-and-distance, what we’re playing, what blitz we’re running,” said Caponi.
“The great thing is, he’s got a good football I.Q. and he’s coachable. He’s got all the tools. We saw what he did last year on short notice, just having fall camp.”
West Virginia must work around an undersized defensive line returning no players who have started a game. And six of the top eight players from last season’s secondary are gone. No wonder the Mountaineers are depending on White to become even more disruptive.
“He’s everything I thought he would be,” Gibson said. “I feel he’ll have a breakout year.”