No Easy Answers

Dana Holgorsen, as he is often apt to do, made things as plain as possible, saying what many have long suspected -- many of West Virginia's cornerbacks have "no business" playing at this point. The problem? The Mountaineers have no other alternatives.

Those issues were as apparent as ever last week against Oklahoma, when WVU played six different corners throughout the course of the game and started one player -- Terrell Chestnut -- who hadn't seen a meaningful snap on defense in the preceding nine games.

It's part of an evolving process, as coaches look for someone -- anyone -- to step in and play well for a long enough stretch to help the struggling Mountaineer pass defense find a foothold.

"A lot of them are young, obviously," Holgorsen said in a bit of understatement. "You've got guys like Ricky Rumph, who is a true freshman and has no business playing corner in the Big 12 at this point in his career. Chestnut had played zero snaps at corner the entire year, and we started him. He doesn't have any business starting in this league as a corner at this point in time.

"We just don't have enough guys that have taken control of the position and said, ‘This is mine, and we're going to make it work.' So competition continues to be a challenging focus for that spot right now."

There is no easy answer, either. Wholesale changes at cornerback likely aren't possible, as Holgorsen noted WVU already has eight corners on scholarship -- only one of whom (Pat Miller) is a senior.

Thus, the only solution the Mountaineers have at this point is to coach the players they have as best they can and put those who perform well in practice into the lineup for games as well. That is the job of Daron Roberts, in his first season as the coach at that position.

"We're going to put two guys out there at the beginning of the game, and if a guy shows he's not playing well, we're going to put another guy in," Roberts said of the team's philosophy at this point. "We're definitely not to the point that we have solidified starters at the corner position, so the guy who plays the best will play the most."

That, he said, was the reason Chestnut found himself in the starting lineup against the nationally-ranked Sooners. And while Roberts said Chestnut "did fairly well" despite "some mistakes," he admitted the morale in the position meeting room can get a bit low at times.

The statistics say West Virginia has the nation's worst pass defense. It's something that isn't lost on the players, and Roberts has had to provide reminders that progress takes time and that even great corners get beaten at times. It's all an attempt to keep players' confidence up -- something Roberts hopes eventually translates to the field.

"Even some of the best corners in the country ... I think of [Cleveland Browns corner] Joe Haden, and he took his lumps his first year at Florida. Janoris Jenkins [of the St. Louis Rams] was beaten. I've showed tapes of Brandon Hogan and Keith Tandy as underclassmen here who were beaten consistently. Now they're in the NFL and everyone has forgotten about those early days.

"To play corner in the league that has the best quarterback and wide receiver combination in the country is a tall order. But I tell our guys I signed up to coach it, and you signed up to play it, so we're going to keep progressing and playing better."

There have been even more film "lowlights" shown -- of the New York Jets' Darrelle Revis, of the Denver Broncos' future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey and of current Hall of Famer Deion Sanders. The message is clear: everyone struggles. Learn from your mistakes and get better.

"That's part of the game. That's part of the responsibility," Roberts said. "They understand that. It's not an excuse for them to get beaten by any measure, but it helps them deal with it and move on to the next one."

And that, truly, is all West Virginia can do: move on to the next play, the next series, the next game.

Progress may take patience that fans, coaches and players alike are struggling to find, but the hope Roberts has is that one day, like Hogan and Tandy, these corners will use their mistakes as lessons and be seen as experienced lynchpins of future Mountaineer secondaries.

"Guys have matured, and despite what the passing stats may say, the guys have really responded well," Roberts said. "In terms of leagues around the country, places don't pass the ball as much or do it as well as it's done in the Big 12. I'll put our conference against any conference when it comes to skilled quarterbacks and receivers. That combination, from top to bottom, you've got them.

"Young guys have played, and at the end of the day, we're going to put two guys out there to play corner well. The young guys, at the end of the season, they're going to have a lot of snaps to look back on and learn from."


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