With the Mountaineers entering their second full week of fall camp, the pure installation phase will reach its zenith, and the emphasis will shift to testing players with as many snaps, and as many demands, as the staff needs to begin to whittle some of the position battles down as school begins on Aug. 17. Right now, the biggest question marks remain what they were entering the camp, namely who will elevate play and snare the starting cornerback positions, and who can slide into the reserve linebacker slots behind Justin Arndt, Al-Rasheed Benton and Sean Walters.
Names like David Long, Xavier Preston, Brendan Ferns and Hodari Christian are at the forefront for that unit, and it remains to be seen whether any can break into a starting position. The most likely in the spring always appeared to be Long, who has been lauded since the initial stages of his career. But the redshirt freshman still needs to consistently operate both within himself and the defense, especially playing the will position, where pass coverage is paramount. Ferns, the Scout.com four-star true freshman, has quickly proven able to challenge for immediate time in the middle, and will be looked at heavily this week in drills.
At corner, the eight-player competition remains such, with Maurice Fleming receiving recent praise for his play. But as Gibson notes above, the two- and three-deep is always changing, and a player running with the ones on Monday could be with the twos and threes on Tuesday. The constant flux is a mix to see who meshes well playing with whom, and if they can challenge the first team WVU wideouts. There are really no names mentioned any more than others by corners coach Blue Adams, below, who continually reiterates the need to work right now and allow the competition to sort itself over the coming weeks. Of now, it's best to say that Nana Kyeremeh, Rasul Douglas, Antonio Crawford, Elijah Battle, Mike Daniels, Sean Mahone and Jordan and Jacquez Adams all have a chance to contribute, if not start.
"We are repping them all just to see where we are at and who is going to step up," Gibson said. "That job is wide open. Spur, that job is also wide open. Jeremy Tyler, Kyzir (White) and Marvin (Gross), they have all been getting reps."
The defensive line, far thinner after the loss of Larry Jefferson (removed from team), Xavier Pegues (shoulder surgery) and Jaleel Fields (knee surgery), also needs at least two players to begin to position themselves as solid reserves behind starters Darrien Howard at nose and Noble Nwachukwu and Christian Brown on the outside. Gibson said that means players like Alec Shriner, Adam Shuler, Reese Donahue and Chase Behrndt - who flipped back to defense after time along the offensive line - are likely to play this season. The Mountaineers like Shriner on the inside at nose behind Howard, with Shuler slated in back of Nwachukwu at one end spot. Brown is backed by Morgantown native Jon Lewis, who has flipped between the offensive backfield and defensive end multiple times in his career.
"I like Noble a lot. He’s a guy that brings a lot to the table in a run game or in the passing game," Gibson said. "He does everything the right way. Plays hard. Right now he has a lot of confidence in what he’s doing. Christian is in the best shape, the strongest he’s ever been, so I like him and Darrien Howard. We’re set up front with our first three guys. Right now we’re in the process trying to find another nose. Losing Jaleel is going to hurt us because we’ve spent so much time with him, even last fall, getting him ready for this season and for him to go down that hurts us. Jonny Lewis and Christian Brown (are possibilities at nose). Just trying to get guys like that ready who might have to go in and maybe play 10 to 15 snaps."
Blue Adams, below, talks about the cornerback development, and what he is seeing out of players like Maurice Fleming, Elijah Battle and others in a competition battle that figures to extend right up to the Sept. 3 season opener against SEC opponent Missouri.