So after the quarterbacks threw for a combined seven passing touchdowns - three by Skyler Howard over the first nine minutes of the Gold-Blue game alone - and went a combined 32-for-49 for 432 yards, the seven TDs and four interceptions, what is the estimation of exactly what's plaguing the defensive backfield?
The answer is twofold.
First, WVU lost a plethora of players from last season, including starting corners Daryl Worley and Terrell Chestnut, along with spur KJ Dillon and, if one wishes to additionally drive the point, All-American bandit Karl Joseph. When that ability, and the combined snaps of experience, are absent, the effects are obvious over the initial practices. This secondary, outside safeties Jarrod Harper, Jeremy Tyler and Dravon Askew-Henry, truly hasn't worked much together.
Corner Rasul Douglas came in late last season and showed steady development before stagnating at times. Fellow corner Antonio Crawford is only now getting the majority of his snaps on the first team unit after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Add Nana Kyeremeh to the lack-of-playing-time equation, because even if one appears seasoned on pure roster standing, getting into the heat of the fire against the likes of Shelton Gibson, Ka'Raun White, Gary Jennings and Daikiel Shorts - and hopefully Jovon Durante soon as well - is far more demanding than juggling second-team work.
"It's just not being on one (page) and it's busted plays," safety Jeremy Tyler said. "The success part of it is going out there every day and working and getting better. We just have to come in and work every day and show the rest of the defense that we can play. I feel like we are doing that right now. We came out with a chip on our shoulder (the two practices prior to the spring game), but like I said, we have to do that every day. We have to show they guys we are up for the challenge."
That's not to pardon some of the blown coverages, and coordinator Tony Gibson won't. But before the unit is roundly chastised, perhaps a summer of workouts and a few weeks into fall camp are a fair enough evaluation time. And even then, the staff likely won't know if it has enough ability until a couple games into the conference portion, as both Missouri and BYU figure to be attempting to jell themselves around new coaching staffs.
"We have to be able to play man, and we struggle at times giving up the deep ball," Gibson said. "People know we are going to blitz them and so they throw it quick. And we have to be (force) the ball out quick and then make tackles."
The second part of the equation is a bit more dicey. Crawford has shown flashes, and appears to be penciled in as a starter of now. But the other corner slot is open, and Gibson and position coach Blue Adams are eagerly anticipating that somebody out of the mix of Kyeremeh, Douglas (both redshirt seniors) or the Adams brothers in Jordan and Jacquez (both freshmen).
If not, that means one of the junior college transfers has won the job, and that's typically a bad sign if either Elijah Battle or Mike Daniels can bypass the current upperclassmen roster players after being in the program just a few weeks. It signals a lack of execution, mainly, but also potentially a dearth of talent. There will certainly be developmental pains with the new players as well, and those won't come in the practice settings, but rather in the live action of the game.
"We are getting better everyday, and we want to keep taking those steps to get better," Kyeremeh said. "Finishing plays. Don't give up the deep ball. If we just do our jobs and not give up the deep ball, we will be fine. There's a lot of things we can learn from, but that deep ball really kills us."
It wasn't all bad in the Gold-Blue game. West Virginia finished with four interceptions, including two by Shane Commodore and one by Crawford that went 29 yards for a score. It controlled the second team action for much of the contest until late, when wideout Marcus Simms kept snagging touchdowns, ringing up three in the final 15 minutes of play. And the defense as a whole corralled the run effectively. But the ability of Gibson and Jennings to routinely spring open over the top is troubling.
"We got beat early in the scrimmage on some big plays, which is a concern coming out of spring," Gibson said. "We've gotta get better in the secondary, but overall I liked what I saw. We had, what, four picks? I'm happy with that but we're obviously nowhere near game ready."
The offseason goals are simple. Continue to hone the proper footwork and ability to flip the hips and run with wideouts. Take advantage of as many one-on-one throwing sessions with the quarterbacks and receivers as possible. And above all else, cultivate the good habits while denying development of the bad. If the defensive backfield can do that much, it's given itself a chance going into the fall.null