Defense In Depth

The Mountaineer defensive coaching staff will have more players and more depth to use this fall than at any time in the Rich Rodriguez era, and nowhere will that be seen more than at cornerback, where defensive backs coach Tony Gibson has a two-deep roster featuring four players that he would be comfortable starting.

"In the back end, those kids are all going to be treated like starters," Gibson said of his quartet of Dee McCann, Anthony Mims, Larry Williams and Antonio Lewis. "They are all going to have that kind of treatment, and they are going to split reps. All four are going to play a lot, and we want to play a lot of guys anyway in order to keep them fresh. I think at the corner spot it's going to be a good battle. We've never had that here before.

"In the past we might have had a new guy coming in where other guys are seniors, and we weren't really comfortable with playing him a lot. But now, there's not a lot of separation between these four. They've been in the program, and they've played, so I feel good about them."

While McCann and Mims are holding down the starting jobs coming out of the spring, Gibson said that the notion of a player who has a first team spot in is hip pocket isn't one that the Mountaineer staff embraces.

"Our big philosophy is that nobody has a position locked up. You have to win your position every day in practice," the West Virginia native explained. "There's no doubt that one of those guys could take another guy's spot this fall. What we look for is who is going to be the most physical guy and the most consistent guy."

In the physical category, McCann probably leads right now. He excels at jamming receivers off the line, and is WVU's best player in press coverage. On the opposite side, Mims is a fluid cover player with outstanding speed and leaping ability who improved greatly during the season. Mims had what was probably the best game of his career against Florida State in the Gator Bowl before being sidelined by an injury. That, plus the broken arm that knocked spur Mike Lorello out of the game, could well have been the factors that cost the Mountaineers a victory last New Year's Day.

While the Mims-McCann duo is potent, the pair of Williams and Lewis aren't far behind. As Gibson notes, the gap between the former and the latter is a small one that could easily be closed even further during fall drills. Williams, who "had the best spring" according to Gibson, and Lewis, a lightning quick player who displays all the confidence of Adam Jones, will both get a good deal of playing time this fall.

One of WVU's strategy this year is to get more players on the field, to both get experience for younger players and lessen the fatigue factor, and Gibson's corps is well-positioned to execute that strategy. He has had all of his players in the program for at least a couple of years, and that makes it easier for him to communicate with them during practices and game situations. That leads to more comfort on the field, and an increased level of play.

"When they've been around and know the drills they are easy to coach," Gibson observed. "All the work we throw on them the first year is the hard part. Now, I can just say a word or two and they know what I mean. We think alike now. They understand the pace of practice, how it needs to go and how to work.

"I think once guys start playing with confidence and being comfortable, it makes them react quicker. Also, most of these kids have only played this defense. It's the only college defense they have ever played, so they've bought into it."

Add in veteran Thandi Smith, who can also provide help at corner and on special teams, and Gibson, along with defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich and running backs coach Calvin Magee, is blessed with the best depth on the team. It's not going to be idle either, as he says he has "no fear" of playing any of his first four during any game situation. The challenge, of course, will be to keep his troops happy with their time, but, as he'll be the first to tell you, it's one of the best problems any coach can have.


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