West Virginia Defensive Coordinator Wants to See More Effort From Veterans, Details Breakout Player

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Tony Gibson is in charge of piecing together a 2017 defense that will feature eight new starters in the fall. The defensive coordinator gave a synopsis of where his unit stands and how far it has to go.

Tony Gibson didn't exactly mince words when detailing just how far away his unit is from being game ready.

"We would need 45 days of spring practice before I could (come up with a depth chart)," Gibson joked. "We're not even close. One thing I know for sure is that we're not ready to play in a game by any means. We have a lot of pieces that aren't here that we're counting on."

Of course, the fact that the 2017 depth chart is a long way from being set shouldn't really concern anyone and it's not an earth shattering revelation. Very rarely are jobs won and lost in spring practice and Gibson will surely take his time in filling the six or seven spots that are up for grabs. One thing that is mildly concerning, however, is that the fourth year defensive coordinator has been disappointed with the performance of some of the veterans on the roster.

"There are some veterans that are on scholarship that need to step their game up," said Gibson. "They're reminded of that daily. We'll keep addressing that through April 15th and if they can't cut it then they need to find another place to go play football or buy into what we're doing."

Gibson then expanded on his comments, noting that it's not a wide spread issue, but rather one or two specific instances that has him irked.

"It's a little bit of everything. It's a mix of off the field, in the classroom, effort in the weight room, effort on the field and learning what we're doing. Don't take it out of context either. It's not 10 guys, it may be one or two guys that I'm disappointed in that really need to step up."

While some of the veterans haven't lived up to expectations there is an underclassmen that has caught Gibson's eye in the early portion of spring ball.

"JoVanni Stewart is the kid that I'm mostly impressed with that wasn't known coming into spring. I like the way he's playing at safety and I think he can help us if he keeps developing. He's moving around and he can play all three (spur, bandit and free) positions. He's a smart, tough kid that can run a little bit and he just flashes on film every time I turn the film on. We'll continue to rep him at different spots and see where he fits."

Later, Matt Caponi noted that Stewart could end up being a significant contributor at the free safety position where he is likely to pace Dravon Askew-Henry. Another player who has caught Gibson's eye is senior sam linebacker Xavier Preston, who was beat out by Justin Arndt just one year ago.

"Number one, (Preston) knows it's his job to lose. Number two, he's a senior and he knows that his time is limited. I think he is taking full advantage of being the guy right now."

That should come as good news because the Mountaineers could potentially have a very talented and athletic linebacking core with the return of Al-Rasheed Benton and David Long at the mike and will positions. The linebacker and safety positions both return significant contributors and will most likely be a combination of a handful of players. The most pressing needs for Gibson's unit, however, remain to be corner and the three defensive line spots. While he likes what he sees from a pair of senior corners, the defensive coordinator sounded like he wants to see more from the D-line.

"The biggest need right now are D-linemen. We have to have some D-linemen step up and fill those voids. We're losing three starters there. With the corners, Mike Daniels, (Elijah Battle) and Hakeem Bailey are doing some good things right now."

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