MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Like Burt Reynolds before him, perhaps VanDarius Cowan was simply born to play the role of the Bandit.
In Vic Koenning’s defense, the Bandit is a linebacker who creeps up near the line of scrimmage and creates the appearance of a fourth defensive lineman. It gives the flexibility of a fourth pass rusher who is also capable of dropping back to defend passes or the run.
Cowan had been working at middle (Mike) linebacker for the majority of this spring until injuries to other players at Bandit helped prompt a move prior to Saturday’s scrimmage.
It went well.
“He made a big chunk of plays in the scrimmage Saturday,” said inside linebackers coach Blake Seiler. “You’re pretty encouraged, because he’s not playing as fast as he can, because he was thinking a lot and trying to pick up the scheme. You grade the tape and you can tell he’s not even close to full-speed, because he’s only been playing the position for a couple days.”
Seiler said Cowan was the one who initiated the idea, which was well-received.
“That’s what spring is all about — trying to figure out how to get your best 11 on the field,” Seiler said. “He’s a guy who can help us somewhere.”
At 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, Cowan has the build to rusher the passer.
“He can do some things that other guys can’t because of his length and speed,” Seiler said. “And he does have some natural pass-rush ability with his ability to bend and use his hands.”
The Alabama transfer sat out last season due to NCAA eligibility rules. He will be a sophomore.
Though he’s has shown early promise, Seiler said there’s understandably plenty of growth remaining for Cowan and the rest of the Bandits.
“They’re used to playing off-the-ball linebacker, but being that edge rusher and developing those pass-rush moves takes development,” Seiler said.
Zach Sandwisch was back practicing at the Bandit on Monday after being sidelined late last week. The position’s ranks will be further bolstered this August when Charlie Benton and Adam Hensley are expected to be cleared for their return to the field after missing this spring.
Quarterbacks coach Sean Reagan said that when they were at Troy, Neal Brown would traditionally try to get more than one quarterback live-game action during the non-conference schedule.
“The backup quarterback played at least in the four non-conference games. That’s what we did at Troy,” Reagan said. “Will we do that here? I don’t know.”
The idea is to have an insurance policy in case the starter goes down in conference play, which happened at Troy last season. Backup Sawyer Smith played in all 13 games, but only started the final seven after starter Kaleb Barker was injured.
“As far as [serious] playing experience, we don’t have any other than Jack in one game,” Reagan said. “So, you have to build that as the season goes, just in case something bad happens.”
Punt, pass and kick
Monday’s offense-versus-defense competition to open practice was a little less serious than usual as Brown turned it into a punt, pass and kick contest.
The unusual list of competitors included offensive lineman Kelby Wickline against defensive lineman Darius Stills in the punt competition, tight end Mike O’Laughlin against linebacker Dylan Tonkery in the pass competition, and quarterback Trey Lowe against cornerback Keith Washington in the kicking contest.
For the record, Stills can probably punt in a pinch, and O’Laughlin can throw a good 45 yards while maintaining a tight spiral.