While Keith Tandy has gotten a good deal of notice for his picks and play of one year ago, he is the first to admit that he was the beneficiary of good play of his defensive backfield mates. More than half of his interceptions came off deflections caused by other defensive players, with Tandy reeling in the resulting caroms.
"That's a compliment to my teammates," Tandy said "They were getting their hands on balls and making it difficult for the receivers to catch it. All year, coaches kept telling everyone to fly to the ball, and when I did that the ball kept coming to me."
Tandy's statements might seem innocuous, but they point out a pair of issues that are important for any player. The first is that there's often more than one contributor to a turnover or a big play, while the second is that the play is never over.
Tandy's circumstances, where tipped balls led to picks, is an obvious example, but so too are many other big defensive plays. An outside rusher might take more attention from blockers that allow a blitzing linebacker to make a sack, or a lineman might eat up a double team and free a spur or bandit to make a tackle, and the senior corner is quick to share the credit that often isn't spread around enough.
The second item is even more important. Tandy, who has become one of the leaders of the defense, has preached continuous effort throughout the summer and fall, and is the prime example of good things happening to those who continue to hustle.
"Keeping going, and flying to the ball, that's big," Tandy reaffirmed. "Even if you get beat, they still have to finish the play. They have to make the throw and make the catch. They might bobble it and you can get a pass breakup like that."
Tandy should be the poster child for continued effort, and not just for his picks in 2010. He bounced back from a tough outing against USF two years ago in which he gave up two long passes for touchdowns, and didn't let that bother him despite some ridiculous criticism from a small number of Mountaineer fans. Instead, he kept working on every play. Eventually, the sustained effort that he spoke of paid off.
While Tandy attempts to pass those lessons along to his teammates, he understands that this year's defense might not be able to do everything it did a year ago in terms of disguising coverages and executing different schemes. That shortcoming, though, might be offset by one of the great equalizers of any athletic competition.
"Speed," he said, "will let us do some things that we couldn't do last year. We can play more man to man, because we have guys that are faster and more athletic."
Of course, that speed might mean players heading off in the wrong direction more quickly – something that's anathema to Tandy's be-in-the-right-spot style. Still, he thinks that there's enough experience in the secondary to make the rebuilding effort more smooth than might be anticipated.
"We have Eain Smith in the back [of the defense], and I have been playing with Eain ever since I came in. Our first year we played on the scout team together, and then we played together on SWAT, so he knows a lot of my tendencies and I know a lot of his. I've played with Pat Miller and Brodrick Jenkins on the SWAT packages a lot too, so I don't think it's going to be as big a change from last year as everyone might think."