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Maurice Fleming Brings More Than Backup Ability to West Virginia

It would be a mistake to judge WVU graduate transfer Maurice Fleming solely on the fact that he was primarily a nickel back at Iowa during his first three seasons of collegiate play.

That's the opinion of HawkeyeInsider.com publisher, Derek Young, who covers Iowa as part of the Scout.com network.

“It definitely wasn't because he's not good,” said Young, who had a front row seat watching the Iowa defense this past year. “He's a very good player. It's just that Iowa has been loaded in the defensive secondary over the past couple of years. It had Desmond King, who won the Jim Thorpe Award as the top defensive back in the nation in 2015, and on the other side it had Greg Mabin, who is going to be a three-year starter. Those are great players, and it was tough to get past them.”

It wasn't as if the Hawkeyes didn't try to get Fleming more time on the field. He was a mainstay in Iowa's five- and six-defensive back coverages, and the Iowa staff even toyed with the idea of playing him at safety in order to take advantage of his abilities. However, being a true corner, that didn't work out, so he was limited to those situations when extra pass defenders were required, as well as special teams action. After a spring in which it became apparent that he wasn't going to earn a starting spot, Fleming talked to the staff about transferring, noting that he wanted the chance to play more and compete for a primary role. The Iowa coaching staff understood that and wished him well on his departure.

“At any other Big 10 school, I think he would have been a two-year starter,” Young said of Fleming's ability. “I honestly believe that. When you watched him, his name never came up, which is a good thing for guys like defensive backs and offensive tackles, who only get noticed when they make a mistake or give up a play. He played against the slot receiver in a lot of coverages, and he played well in both zone and man-to-man. He has good hips and turns well. He's just a very solid player.”

At West Virginia, of course, he's not guaranteed a starting job. Nana KyeremehRasul Douglas and Antonio Crawford all battled through the spring, with the former gaining a grasp on one side while the latter duo continued to compete at the other. That's not nearly enough players to fortify the cornerback positions, however, so defensive coordinator Tony Gibson noted at the end of spring that the Mountaineers would be open to a transfer or other addition. When Fleming made the decision to play his final year elsewhere, WVU was in early and closed the deal while other schools, especially one from the ACC, was still trying to gain traction.

Fleming, like all other newcomers, will have to learn WVU's defense, including coverages and signals. He does have a great base of experience behind him, but that's not always a guarantee of success. The list of juco and graduate transfers who have fallen short of major contributions is a lot longer than the ones that have been stellar, and that's simply a reflection of the difficulty in assimilating all there is to learn at a new program in a short period of time. However, it doesn't appear, at least in Young's evaluation, that Fleming will fall short on the ability scale. Now, it's all about how quickly he can learn the Mountaineer system so he can play freely and without having to think about each assignment or call.

“He's very good off the field too,” Young summed up. “He's a business-like guy, works hard and doesn't get in trouble. When he did get a start, against Northwestern when Mabin was hurt, he shut his guy down. I think West Virginia got a really good player, and it's just a great pick-up for them.”


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