Shifting Sands

With all the hype that built around his play towards the end of the 2009 season, few could have expected the WVU coaching staff to do much to mess with Robert Sands' role on the defense. But things were a bit different for the junior safety in last Saturday's season-opener.

Indeed, Sands, who played almost the entirety of last year at the free safety spot, shifted down to bandit safety instead for bulk of his team's 31-0 win over Coastal Carolina.

But the move was hardly a demotion. If anything, according to Sands, it allowed him to play more freely and use his physicality further to his advantage.

"I liked it a lot," he said. "It was a little uncomfortable just because I hadn't played it long. But for the most part, I liked it because you get to move around a lot. You can blitz. You can cover. You can be in man. You never really know what the bandit is going to do because he gets to move around a lot.

"So it's good. He's the free hitter in the defense, and it's always good to be a free hitter."

The move also allowed Eain Smith, who had been praised by head coach Bill Stewart and others throughout fall camp for his play, to take over at free safety. But beyond that, it allowed the coaches to utilize Sands, a physical force in the secondary, in a different way.

"I liked that, being close to the action," Sands said, a smile crossing his face, "even though they didn't come my way too often."

This week's opponent might also avoid do its best to avoid Sands. After all, Marshall's new head coach, Doc Holliday, personally recruited the safety to WVU. Thus, Holliday knows about the Carol City, Fla., native's considerable skill-set better than most.

While Sands was not happy to see the coach who helped bring him to Morgantown depart at the end of last season, he was pleased that Holliday finally had his chance to lead a college football program.

"He finally got his shot," the junior said. "Every coach wants to be a head coach once or twice, you know? Doc had been around the game for a long time, and he finally got his opportunity. I'm glad he's doing it."

But that doesn't mean Sands will have any less desire to get the job done on the field this Friday night in the Friends of Coal Bowl.

"I'll see him after the game and talk to him a little bit, but once we're on the field, you know, it's all about business," Sands said

Sands said he is "fine" as game day rapidly approaches, after dealing with cramps, a thumb issue and a shoulder stinger in the wake of the Coastal Carolina game.

That trio of problems was more than even the most pessimistic players could have expected after just one game, but the safety said none of them had bothered him this week.

"It was no major injuries like that," Sands said. "It was little minor stuff here and there. We just go in there, get treatment or whatever, and get ready or whatever. I'm fine. I'm ready to go."

The safety and the rest of his West Virginia teammates have had to get ready for a Herd team that could be vastly different from the one they faced a season ago because of the presence of Holliday and his new staff.

The Mountaineers also know there is danger in trying to glean too much from game film of MU's 45-7 season-opening loss to No. 2 Ohio State last Thursday night in Columbus. But regardless, Sands said WVU won't be caught off-guard.

"They're doing a lot of different things this year from what I can see on film," Sands said. "We're not too sure what they're going to do because of the first game.

"They might do a different look for us because they know [our] players personally and stuff like that. So you really don't know what to expect with them, but we're going to be ready for whatever they throw at us."

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