Defending His Territory

WVU cornerback Ishmael Banks got a bit lost in the shuffle of pre-spring discussion concerning the Mountaineer defense, but his performance heading into the final week of drills has him front and center.

As a member of a defensive secondary beset by struggles over the past two seasons, Banks was something of an afterthought by many as West Virginia began spring football practice. With a desire to see what younger players and newcomers might bring to the table, the senior wasn't being discussed by many as a potential starter. This, in spite of a respectable junior season that included 32 tackles, two interceptions (one returned for a score) and a pass breakup.

When the spring began, many eyes were focused on junior college transfer Keishawn Richardson, as well as players such as Terrell Chestnut, Nana Kyeremeh and Brandon Napoleon. But that didn't stop Banks, who has ridden his experience to improved play and a grip, at least currently, on one of the starting spots at cornerback.

"Being the starter, you know what it takes to come out here every day," Banks said heading into the final week of spring drills. "I'm just trying to use that experience to my advantage."

Cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell isn't ready to anoint starters just yet, but he notes that his lone senior has blended a mix of experience and improvement to earn lots of snaps through the spring.

"You can ask more and more of him as a leader, because he's the only senior in the room," the second-year WVU assistant noted. "If you play that position as long as he's played it, he's had a lot of Big 12 reps. I think overall confidence is the biggest thing you can point to with Icky right now, and that's a by-product of the learning curve."

One of the main lessons Banks has learned over his career -- one that every player has to come to grips with -- is the need to work hard and focus on every play. That's not to say that Banks didn't push and do his best in previous seasons, but there's an edge -- a bit of a higher level -- that has to be reached in order to play at a consistent level. Whether it's from a concentration or execution standpoint, that focus and attention to detail has to be present on every snap.

Banks is also happy with the depth that looks to be developing, and not just at the cornerback position. The safeties playing alongside him and in front of him are developing nicely, which makes for better play from the entire secondary as a whole.

"We have a lot of good players. The system is designed to be easy," he noted of the tweaks put in place by new defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. "Whoever we put in they are going to make plays."

Mitchell agrees with that, and notes that the depth chart at corner might be by committee, or might be just two players, depending on who brings that mix of effort, attention and performance to the field each day.

"There's going to be competition. The level of competition has to be there. If not, these kids aren't going to get better every day."

For Banks, that lesson has been assimilated, and when the smoke clears at the end of fall, he might just be an anchor around which the defense can be built.

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