Making Strides

It's no secret that the West Virginia secondary has plenty of room to improve from last season.

The Mountaineers were never quite able to get adjusted to the pass-happy nature of the Big 12 Conference in their first year in the new league. The results caused WVU to find itself ranked near the bottom of every statistical category when it came to its pass defense.

Now, with new cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell leading the way, West Virginia is eager to make huge strides from the team that allowed more than 300 yards per game through the air.

"We have to continue to work," Mitchell said. "It's never ever going to be perfect and as long as they have that perspective of just coming in every day and being a blue-collar worker, we're going to get better.

"But you have to go out there and keep chopping wood every day."

Throughout camp the two corners who have stood out the most to Mitchell and worked with the first-team defense most of the team during the short team sessions media members were permitted to see were juniors Travis Bell and Ishmael Banks.

Banks' story is an interesting one, as the Richmond, Va., native originally came to West Virginia as a cornerback but was having difficulties making his way onto the field and was moved to safety during the spring before the 2012 season.

But after the struggles at corner at the beginning of the year, Banks was moved back to his original position and flourished in the opportunity.

He started four games at corner before suffering a knee injury against Iowa State.

Since he's returned, Banks hasn't looked back and is taking full advantage of his chances.

"Icky is playing with a chip on his shoulder. He's executing all the fundamentals and technique we need him to," Mitchell said. "In our room, we talk a lot about exactness and Icky is about as close to being exact in the way he goes about his work each and every day as you can possibly be."

Much like Banks, Bell got his chance at corner after switching to the position from safety. He made the switch at the very end of spring practice this season and turned a lot of heads by playing very well in the Gold-Blue Game.

At nearly 6-foot-2, Bell's size gives him a unique advantage compared to some of the other corners on the WVU roster.

Mitchell says the added size that Bell, as well as 6-foot-2 freshman Daryl Worley, has helped them succeed in the defense during camp.

"The scheme dictates a lot when it comes to how much of an impact a guy can have, and our scheme – especially with what we're going to be facing in the Big 12 – needs to have a few taller, longer guys that can play out in space.

"Smaller corners can do that too obviously, if they're physical enough. But right now, for what we need, we like having guys like that who are more physical and rangier because of how much we're going to be out in space."

There are plenty of players fighting for time. Mitchell mentioned six names when talking about the cornerbacks he could put on the field when the first game of the year comes around, a luxury WVU would have loved to have last year.

But with Bell still adjusting to the position, Banks having limited experience, Avery Williams coming off a neck injury and the fact that Worley and Brandon Napoleon have yet to play in a college game, only Brodrick Jenkins has the thing that Mitchell wishes he had more of.

"I really wish we could have a little more game experience," he said. "You'd love to have that, but these guys are willing. They're ready to learn and they want to be good.

"That makes me feel really good about where we are as a whole."


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