Gibson says 2015 defense can be ‘as good as anybody in the country’

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — With nine starters from the 2014 defense returning next season, West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson isn’t downplaying the expectations.

Add in Jared Barber, who missed this season while recovering from ACL surgery, and the Mountaineers return 10 defenders with significant starting experience. During a Thursday night studio visit with the MetroNews “Sportsline” crew, Gibson pumped up his projections for 2015. In fact, he pumped them way up:

Tony Gibson has nine starters returning from the 2014 defense and a 10th, Jared Barber, returning from a knee injury.

“A lot of coaches kind of hide from what they’re really thinking, what the expectations are, and everybody puts out the same old line: ‘We’re going to be OK and we’re going to work,'” Gibson said. “Well, if we’re not great on defense, I’m going to be very disappointed and it’s going to be a disappointing year for our fans and our team.

“I think we can be really good—as good as anybody in the country.”

With only the national championship remaining before statistical rankings are finalized, West Virginia sits ninth in the FBS in third-down defense (31.4 percent), 28th in pass-efficiency defense, 66th in total defense (399.4 yards per game) and 72nd in scoring defense (27.8 points per game).

While you can listen to Gibson’s hour-long “Sportsline” appearance above, below are a few excerpts:

Tall’s addition: Regarding Tuesday’s hiring of Bruce Tall as defensive line coach, Gibson said he was excited to reunite after their eight seasons together at West Virginia and Michigan.

“I just think he’s a great football coach, a great man, great father, great husband, and he’ll do great things with our kids,” Gibson said.

Bringing back Tall gives WVU yet another defensive assistant with experience in the 3-3-5.

“He understands the odd front, what we want and what we need,” Gibson said. “He’s been a coordinator in a 3-4 and a 3-3 front.”

Still intimately familiar with his home state of Ohio, Tall will be recruiting that area again. During his first stint at West Virginia from 2003-2007, Tall mined Ohio for standouts such as Julian Miller, Najee Goode and Ryan Stanchek.

“He recruited some really good guys when we were here before. So he’s going to go back into Ohio—Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus—kind of hit that area,” Gibson said. “And he’s from Cleveland, and Coach (Ron) Crook has that, so I’m sure Bruce will tag-team some guys in that area with him.”

On Joseph’s return: When junior safety Karl Joseph didn’t receive a first- or second-round draft grade from NFL evaluators, Gibson said the team’s top tackler made the wise decision to return for his senior season.

“He said, ‘I don’t like how it ended. I think we can be really good next year and I want to be a part of it.’ … It was a pretty easy conversation with is family,” Gibson said.

Joseph, having been thoroughly instructed by WVU’s compliance staff, also avoided any eligibility snarls.

“He did it all the right way —did not mess with agents, didn’t talk with anybody,” Gibson said.

Tonkery’s smarts: Pressed to name the smartest player he coached, Gibson cited Wes Tonkery, the fifth-year senior who recently completed his engineering degree.

After starting 12 games this season at outside linebacker, Tonkery began drawing some NFL attention. Yet when Gibson mentioned the possibility of pursuing a contract in an NFL camp, he said Tonkery told him:

“I’m taking a job. I’ve already accepted it. I’m starting right after the bowl game. I’m getting married, and I’m going to be in Bridgeport.”

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