West Virginia fans don't need to look much further than last year's contest against Baylor to realize how important depth at the safety position is in Tony Gibson's 3-3-5 defense. Marvin Gross, who was a special teams stalwart for most of the season, replaced an injured Kyzir White at the spur position and recorded two sacks, an interception, a forced fumble and a pass breakup as he seemingly willed the Mountaineers to a 24-21 victory over the Bears.
Entering spring football Gross was the only proven back-up behind the trio of Kyzir White, Dravon Askew-Henry and Toyous Avery, a group that figured to be the strongest and most experienced position group on the defense in 2017. At the conclusion of spring ball the Mountaineers are feeling a little better about their personnel and could go six deep after the emergence of JoVanni Stewart at the free safety spot and Derrek Pitts at the bandit.
"The progress that they have made in the spring is remarkable," said Gross. "They have learned so much and it's surprising how much they have retained over just the spring. I'm excited to see what they bring to the table come fall and it's good that they have got some of the calls down so in the fall we can pick up where we left off."
Stewart was lauded for his nose for the football by Tony Gibson mid-way through the spring and from the sounds of things he could be the "breakout defensive player" of the spring. Another freshman - Derrek Pitts, who was West Virginia's most heralded recruit in the class of 2017, also has picked things up quickly and concluded his spring with a big performance in the Gold-Blue game as he showed the ability to stick with first-team receivers in coverage and recorded the game's only turnover on a fumble recovery. Gross has been spending some extra time with Pitts in assuring he is comfortable transitioning to the collegiate game.
"For a kid who has just come out of high school he has come along pretty well," said Gross. "I'm proud of him. It took him a little while but I talk to him often and just tell him to calm down. I say 'you have been playing football all of your life it's just a little faster (in college).' KJ (Dillon) did the same thing for me so it's been easy for me to be the big brother to him and try to help him along and tell him it's just football. It's just a little bit faster."