Benton, who led the defense's charge in an excellent scrimmage session on Saturday, noted that the progression of the younger players behind the current starting three has been a contributing factor in the unit's ability to withstand losses.
“I'll say, 'Hey, 28 [David Long], make sure you are doing what you are supposed to be doing on every play,” Benton said of the building process. “It's just the fact that he understands that we trust him and he trusts me. It doesn't matter what three Coach Gibby decides to put out there. We trust his decisions, and in the meeting room we all trust each other.”
Of course, that doesn't come automatically, newcomers and backups have to prove, through repeated drills, scrimmage situations and finally game action, that they can be counted on to be in the right place, fulfill assignments, and make plays on a consistent basis. That has been the case this fall, as Long has begun to fulfill the promise he showed a year ago, and newcomers like Logan Thimons and Brendan Ferns have staged spirited competitions to fill backup roles.
“Thimons has been making some great strides,” Benton said. “I think that competition between him and Ferns has helped a lot, and it has helped me as well. If those guys behind me are making plays, then I have to keep doing it to keep in front of them. It has worked well for all of us.”
Unfortunately, Ferns, who was mounting a serious challenge for the backup spot, has now been lost for the season. That comes on top of the loss of safety Dravon Askew-Henry, who was lost for the season after a non-contact session injury last week.
“It's like a chess game,” Benton explained. “You lose one piece, you have to make sure the other pieces still do what they need to do. [Henry's loss] was hard to deal with, but at the end of the day this is a football team and a football family. We are going to come out and work to get better every day, just like he would want us to. I think we are on our way to doing that.”
The question, though, is just how many pieces this Mountaineer team can afford to lose and avoid a checkmate. Benton will keep plugging, though, and try to make sure that everyone else follows his lead.