That process begins with new position coach Doug Belk, who is in his first Divsion I on-field coaching position. The process of acclimation has had to go hand-in-hand with development of a mostly untested group of players that have a handful of snaps from scrimmage among them.
Remember our base classification system as we evaluate those on hand for spring practice:
Starter: Players with established Division I starting experience
Contributor: Players with significant backup time at their primary position
Unproven: Those with only special teams experience or minimal playing time
STARTER: Elijah Battle gets a nod into this category because he's the only returnee with any starts to his credit at all. Still, he averaged more than 20 plays per game from scrimmage, and while a number of those were in passing down packages, he does have that trio of starting assignments on his resume.
UNPROVEN: Mike Daniels sits atop this group, but with just six appearances in 2016, and most of those coming on special teams, he doesn't have the experience to count as a seasoned contributor. Jordan Adams had a few plays on special teams, but behind that pair the group of Jacquez Adams, Jake Long, Sean Mahone and Kevin Williams are all vying to show they can be counted on this fall. Long and Mahone, both redshirt freshmen, are in the daily fight to show they are ready for playing time consideration, while Williams, a redshirt sophomore, is in an important stage of his career. He needs to show that he is ready to contribute, or risk being passed by those in classes behind him. Junior college transfer Hakeem Bailey has made a big impression early on, and could hold an early lead for one of the starting positions come fall.
The beat goes on in terms of rebuilding for Tony Gibson's defense, and it's just as massive a job at corner as it is on the defensive line. Head coach Dana Holgorsen pointed out a year ago that while WVU lost starters at corner, it was rebuilding with experienced players, so he wasn't quite as worried as some observers. That view was somewhat borne out, as seniors Antonio Crawford, Rasul Douglas and Maurice Fleming were at least solid against the pass, but this year there's no such similar breadth of base. The potential is there, but it's another case of needing multiple players to improve and snatch a starting or key backup role.
Battle and Daniels could both continue their upward progression, but can they reach the performance of a Douglas or a Fleming? Bailey is also making strides, and if all three can answer the challenge then WVU could wind up with another secondary that it can depend upon. Again, though, this is bucking the odds – getting every player to come through and reach maximum potential is a rare occurrence. WVU also needs a couple of its youngsters to take next steps, and at least be a viable backup option or a choice when six or seven defensive backs take the field. This, again, mimics the depth chart at other positions, where a sizable gap exists between potential starters and backups.
It should also be noted that the situation isn't necessairly bleak, either. Newcomers and transfers will arrive over the summer and fall, and at least one or two will have the chance to make an impact there. Our focus has been on the players on hand for spring drills, though, and out of this group the Mountaineers need at least four corners who have the confidence of the coaching staff to play on scrimmage downs in 2017
With no walk-on corners in camp, there have been plenty of snaps for the seven players listed above. Each has certainly had chances to show his improvement level so far, and with the additional slots to be filled on special teams, there are numerous chances to see the field. What WVU is missing, at least to this point, is a player like Douglas, who could have coverages designed around him, or be counted upon to put a serious crimp on an opponent.
Previously In The Series: