Revamped West Virginia Secondary Ramps Up For Challenge Versus Missouri

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia's secondary looks like a half-complete puzzle.

The safety position is securely in place, with starters Jarrod Harper at bandit, Jeremy Tyler at free and junior college transfer Kyzir White at spur. The corners, however, remain a series of promising pieces that haven't quite been locked into place. Sure, West Virginia announced the starters in field corner Antonio Crawford and boundary mate Rasul Douglas. But it's a veritable certainty that reserves Nana Kyeremeh and Maurice Fleming will get snaps, especially is Missouri uses the faster pace expected and begins to mount snap numbers in the second half.

"The depth chart, you have to release one," defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. "Don’t put much stock in that right now. That’s what we had to put down on paper. There are three guys that I feel that are starters: Crawford, Fleming and Rasul. Those three will see the majority of the snaps, with Nana being the next guy in."

As head coach Dana Holgorsen has pointed out, the players there aren't young, and really aren't inexperienced, either. Consider that WVU's two-deep at safety averages 18 career games played (108 total starts over six players). The corners' average would actually be 28 - or 10 more per player -  if Fleming's 33 games played at Iowa and Crawford's 38 at Miami were added in with Douglas' 11 and Kyeremeh's 30. As it is, those numbers aren't listed in the Mountaineers' two-deep. But they certainly factor, nonetheless, especially when coming from Power Five conferences like the Big Ten and ACC.

"I feel really confident," corners coach Blue Adams said. "We've trained hard. It's been a long camp and a long time coming for the guys to have an opportunity to go out there and compete. They continue to get better on a day-in and day-out basis. Whoever goes out there will be the guy, as long as he is out there. We worked our tails off. We should have some level of confidence based upon the level of work we put in. That said, you still get more confidence as the season goes on and you gain more confidence."

Adams has played his hand close to the vest during camp, but did expand upon why Crawford and Douglas were named starters, while Fleming was a close third.

"Antonio has a unique skill set from the standpoint that he can do a lot of great movement," Adams said pf the senior, a transfer from Miami who has played in every career game in which he was eligible. "I like his hunger for the game and he has a good football IQ and drive. He wants to get better."

Adams noted that Douglas' 6-2, 208-pound size makes him a good fit the the more run-keyed boundary slot, while Fleming "came in focused. He's a serious dude. He's a football type guy with a good football IQ as well. He is a student of the game. He wants to get better, wants to be coached. He is a good talent to have in the room."

While Missouri isn't the biggest challenge West Virginia will face this season, the Tigers have a new offensive coordinator in Josh Heupel, who brings playing and coaching experience from Oklahoma. Heupel played under Mike Leach his first season at in Norman in 1999, and that set up the 2000 campaign in which OU won the national title using some of the spread 'em, shred 'em principles shared by Leach and Holgorsen. Missouri is expected to incorporate some aspects of that style in an offense that averaged just 13.6 points per game. The Tigers also add former Alabama wideout Chris Black and Oklahoma running back Alex Ross, but have an entirely new offensive line.

"I think it’s just kind of the unknown," safeties coach Matt Caponi said of his most pressing concern for the opener. "Especially with facing a team that has a new coaching staff on the offensive side of the ball, we are very limited in the film that we have on them. It’s kind of working and making sure that we control what we can control, and that’s as far as our communication progression, what we’re reading from our key standpoint, and doing our responsibility and not trying to do too much. I think it will take a series or two for us to get adjusted and kind of feel out what Missouri is going to be trying to do from a scheme standpoint."

Missouri has won 14 consecutive season openers and 18 of their last 19 dating to 1997. West Virginia is unbeaten in home openers over the last 12 seasons.

"I feel like we have a nice game plan," Gibson said. "We’ll see how it works but I am excited to see the kids get out and perform. It’s time that we make that step and see where we are at."


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