While both Tyler and Benton have been thrown into the lineup and played meaningful snaps for the Mountaineers neither have been depended on to start for an entire season at the onset of fall camp. That will change in 2016 as Benton has cemented his spot at the starting middle linebacker position and Tyler is battling Jarrod Harper for the bandit safety position in fall camp. Although it's probably unfair to expect either to jump in and be the second coming of Karl Joseph or Nick Kwiatkoski, both bring their own unique talents to the Mountaineer defense in 2016.
For Tyler it is his versatility that makes the Lithonia, Ga. native so valuable to the Mountaineer defense. Tyler has played at both free safety (which Dravon Askew-Henry will start for his third consecutive season) and the bandit safety position that Karl Joseph left up for grabs after a season ending knee injury a year ago. Tyler worked exclusively at the bandit position in spring and held it down as Jarrod Harper missed the entirety of spring practice after surgery. Tyler felt he had a strong showing in the spring and hopes to build on that in fall camp.
"Just having my the opportunity to showcase my talents and being out there more gave me the ability to show what I can do and how we can win games," Tyler said about his spring performance.
Tyler may also be asked to play at the spur position that Marvin Gross and Kyzir White are looking to take over in fall camp. West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson has alluded that either he or Harper could end up playing the spur since they are the most experienced safeties after Dravon Askew-Henry. Tyler detailed the main differences between the spur safety position and the free and bandit safety positions.
"(The difference between the bandit and the spur is) as a spur you're more likely to be around the box and not around the post," Tyler explained. "But as a bandit you will roll into the post and you're in the box. It's a mixture of just being able to roll to the post and playing in the box - playing the run and playing the pass."
Tyler has played some spur in the past so it won't be completely new to him if he is asked to line up in the box, blitz and stop the run, skills that made K.J. Dillon a key cog in last year's defense. While Tyler is interchangeable at the three safety positions, he admitted he prefers the bandit to the spur because he has been practicing there for the last two seasons.
While Jeremy Tyler is battling for a starting position, Al-Rasheed Benton is one of the few players on the Mountaineers defense who has solidified a starting spot. Benton is one of the more athletic Mike linebackers that West Virginia has had in the last decade, but he admits that he and the other linebackers need to continue working on the mental aspect of playing the position.
"Right now we just want to get the mental aspects down," Benton said. "We have a lot of guys who may not have as much experience so what we're trying to get down now is just eliminating mental breakdowns. Once we get that down the athletic ability will take over and I feel that we have a lot of athletic ability in the room. Once we put those two key components together I don't think we'll have any problems."
Whether the Mountaineers can get that mental aspect of the game down has yet to be seen though, as defensive coordinator Tony Gibson admitted the defense is behind where he wants them to be to this point. Part of that has allowed Justin Arndt to gain an early edge on the more athletic Xavier Preston at the Sam linebacker position. The Will linebacker also features a similar battle that includes veteran Sean Walters and redshirt freshman David Long. Benton spoke about how that battle is shaping up.
"David Long is just a freak athlete and once he fully understands what's going on with the defense I don't think there's many guys who can stop him," Benton said about the freshman linebacker. "Sean is actually the oldest guy and I look to him a lot of times for advice because he's been here longer than I have."
There is no doubt that the potential is there for this to be a strong linebacking core and it could be one of the more athletically gifted groups that Mountaineer fans have seen in some time, but whether everyone can get on the same page and master the mental aspect of the position remains to be seen. Benton remains optimistic about the group's prospects.
"I think we're coming along and I think we have a long way to go," Benton said. "But we have a couple more practices and I'm anxious to see how it goes."