MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — There won’t be much mystery surrounding West Virginia’s secondary at the start of August training camp. Outside of some potential jostling at cornerback, the two-deep appears pretty set at each position.
The Mountaineers replace two departing senior safeties in Toyous Avery and Dravon Askew-Henry, but will do so with veterans.
Their coverage responsibilities will be different under new defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. Koenning’s defenses usually play the more zone-oriented cover-4 or “quarters” coverage in the defensive backfield as opposed to the primarily man-to-man cover-1 look that was employed by Tony Gibson.
Here’s a look at West Virginia’s projected secondary depth chart this fall.
Hakeem Bailey or Keith Washington
Norwood should be considered CB1, which is arguably the most important role on the defense in a conference that provides wide receivers with a direct pipeline to becoming Biletnikoff Award finalists.
“Norwood has been probably as competitive as anybody we have on our football team,” WVU coach Neal Brown said this spring. “I think the secondary feeds off his energy.”
Fellow seniors Bailey and Washington will battle to be the No. 2 corner throughout August and probably the remainder of the season – the Mountaineers will certainly need both to contribute.
Fifth-year senior Jordan Adams finally looks ready to contribute after spending most of his career on the bench or special teams, thought he didn’t exactly endear himself to coaches with the exceedingly rare spring game unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after an interception.
Dreshun Miller, who got his feet wet this spring after transferring from junior college, has a chance to rocket up the depth chart this fall.
Strong (Cat) Safety
This will be the safety that covers the long side of the field depending on which hash mark the ball is marked on.
That makes speed an essential trait at the position, and former cornerback Pitts has it. He’s also filling the leadership void left by West Virginia’s departing seniors.
“Derrek Pitts has really grown,” Brown said. “He is one of our most improved players this spring.”
Pitts will have to break some old habits in training camp – he bit hard on a couple of play-action passes in the spring game – but the Mountaineers are counting on him to be one of their more reliable pieces.
These are the guys receivers are supposed to be afraid of. Robinson proved those bona fides as an all-Big 12 pick as a sophomore last year. Mahone, who has been a solid special teams contributor, will have a chance to contribute more on defense in his junior season.
“You’ve got to know more stuff. You’ve got to make calls. You’ve got to be able to tackle downhill,” said Mahone, who moved from cornerback. “Safety is more of a job communicating and getting people in the right spots.”
The Swiss Army knife of the defense is this hybrid of a safety and linebacker. It’s a role Stewart was born to play. A defensive back by nature, injuries forced him to be an undersized outside linebacker last season.
As he humorously noted earlier in spring, “I’m cool with offensive tackles, it’s just that I wouldn’t want to say hi to them every play.”
He’ll be taking on players closer to his own size this fall.
While the Mountaineers played a vanilla defense in the spring game, expect a large role for Raines this season. His 6-foot-3 frame makes him an ideal fit for packages against offenses using a fullback or two tight ends.
Safeties: Tykee Smith, Osita Smith, Rashean Lynn
Cornerbacks: Tavian Mayo, Nicktroy Fortune
Tykee and Osita Smith aren’t related, but they are the two highest-rated players in this year’s recruiting class. With veterans manning each position, they are unlikely to compete for starting roles. But their talent level should give them a chance to contribute this season.
Expect Mayo and Fortune to play, too. With four senior cornerbacks on the roster, Brown and Koenning have an obligation to get corners game-ready for 2020 and beyond.
Each week this offseason, we’ll look at the depth chart at each position for West Virginia. If you missed any, you can catch up here: