West Virginia's Coordinator Noted Importance Of Foundation During Defensive Rebuild

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson isn't one to mince words, and he didn't while discussing the development of a unit that lost eight starters from a season ago.

"We're not where I thought we would be," Gibson said. "We are a little behind. I thought we would be picking it up a lot quicker than we are right now. It's slowed the install down. We're day one still (with that aspect). Today when the pads go on we will get a lot better feel for what we are doing, how we are doing it and how physical we will be. Right now it's slow. Lot of new guys getting in, getting reps We have to take our time."

Gibson was then asked where the install was, well, stalling.

"Everywhere," he said.

Though that's not really true. The defensive line, which returns two starters and a third player in Darrien Howard with much experience, is right on par. And even among the back eight, Gibson said he was fine with the first team linebackers in Al-Rasheed Benton, Justin Arndt and Sean Walters. And certainly Jarrod Harper, Jeremy Tyler and Dravon Askew-Henry have enough experience that the defense is nearly second nature. That leaves the corners, and the back-ups at spur safety and the relatively young linebackers as a touch behind.

"We are trying to get a lot of reps with guys," Gibson said. "We'll know more when we put the pads on."

The raw talent level at linebacker is evident. Rarely does a session go by that a player or coach doesn't mention weakside backup David Long as among the team's most promising players. Strongside 'backer Xavier Preston, now a junior, has played in 22 career games and needs to flip the mental switch and contribute on more than special teams. And though Hodari Christian is listed as the back-up to Benton in the middle, he's getting pushed by true freshman Brendan Ferns, a Scout.com four-star player and U.S. Army All-American.

Another issue for WVU is that, of now, Tyler and Harper are competing for the same bandit slot. That puts the Mountaineers in the somewhat precarious position of having two of its most experienced players not on the field at the same time. But as it always does, that will shake out by the close of fall camp, and one could slide to spur, or there will simply be better depth at the position. The question will be if junior college transfer Kyzir White can pick up on the defense enough to take the starting spur slot away from Marvin Gross. A redshirt junior, Gross has played in 24 career games. But at 6-3, 195 pounds, he isn't as well-built as White, who has the same height with an added 26 more pounds.

Safeties coach Matt Caponi, below, said White's skillset fits perfectly at the position, and that his range and frame were significant assets for a defense which needs to close down as much open space as possible in a wide open Big 12.

"His length and what he can do, we have him locked in (to spur)," Caponi said. "Coming in new, the first priority for those new guys is getting them focused on one position. We have him dialed and locked in to spur."

Caponi also said he wouldn't hesitate to move players away from their preferred slots in order to get the most talent in the line-up.

"The three best are going to start," Caponi said, "even if that means moving a guy from a certain position. I'm trying get the most skill on the field." 


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