"Starting From Ground Zero"

WVU cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell is looking for small successes to help build the foundation of the Mountaineer secondary.

More than halfway through spring practice, Mitchell is still working on basics with his cornerbacks. While the pace of progress might not be what fans want, he understands that any attempt to rush the process might only set his players back further.

To that end, Mitchell, as well as the rest of the defensive coaching staff, are emphasizing those basics. some units, such as the defensive line, might be a bit further along, given the stability of coaching at that position and the level of talent and experience, but Mitchell's plan begins with the idea of achieving basic goals and building upon them.

"Let's create simple successes," he said in describing his first steps. "I'm not asking them to be overnight successes, let's take simple successes. Let's get into a stance, let's get our knowledge. Let's get our communication. Let's get everything we need to be a great player when that ball is snapped. We're starting from ground zero."

The sentiment of starting from scratch is one that's shared by fellow secondary coach Tony Gibson, and it's an important one, given that the communication between Mitchell's corners and Gibson's safeties is the first link in improving the pass defense. That aspect of the game is even more important as the Mountaineers implement changes to their defensive system.

"We're a 3-4 team. I'm not quite sure what they did last year, but the terminology has changed," Mitchell explained. "Some of the responsibilities in the back end have changed, and with that comes some responsibilities within the scheme has changed. Their snap footwork has to be different almost every play."

Mitchell also explained that it's not just a matter of "new" coverages being installed. There are various permutations and combinations of each set that have to be mastered, which makes learning a new defense much more than just lining up in the proper formation against a particular offensive set.

"You can have one coverage, but there's six or seven different plays within one coverage, so their footwork could be different six or seven different [ways]. You're trying to make sure that repetition after repetition these kids are internalizing what you're telling them," he explained. "There's a book called 'Talent is overrated"' and it says to be an expert at anything you've got to put in 10,000 hours or 100,000 reps. We'll never get 10,000 hours because of the NCAA, but we'll get 100,000 reps at shuffling and reading and things like that. That's what we're working toward."

With all of that work to accomplish, improvement never comes as fast as coaches (or fans) would like, but Mitchell is seeing some progress from veteran returnees and those with limited experience. Whether or not that means West Virginia will show improvement right out of the gate this fall is anyone's guess, but Mitchell is at least encouraged by what he has observed.

"There is some carry over from last year, but anytime you've played the game as long as Brodrick [Jenkins], you're probably going to pick it up faster than the other guys," he said, singling out the most experience cornerback on the roster. "He has. He's done a great job. We put him into the boundary, and he's done a tremendous job of doing what we need him to do over there.

{Some of] the guys are a little hesitant to step up right now. It isn't that they don't want to be starters. They just don't know how to be starters right now. When you look at some of the kids, like Brandon Napoleon, he has never played cornerback before. He was a quarterback in high school. Every day is a new day for a number of these guys. They don't know how to go out day in and day out and be that starter. They are using these reps to prepare for that."

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