Holming In

West Virginia has made one major defensive move that could pay immediate dividends in both run support and the potential pass rush in the fall.

The Mountaineers moved former outside linebacker Johnny Holmes to the spur safety spot formerly held by Erick Wicks. That flipped Wicks to bandit, giving West Virginia more speed, longer wingspans and a more physical presence than it had under the ultra-sound Mike Lorello last year.

"Moving Johnny out there gives us a big, athletic guy we can do stuff with similar to what we did with Mike Lorello and Eric Wicks last year," WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "We are doing some different things with our spur position. It has really always been kind of a linebacker position."

But with the ability to morph into a pass rusher or play pure run support. It is West Virginia's version of the Pittsburgh Steelers' Troy Polamalu, though Holmes won't lineup with his back to the offense or in as many different looks as the all-pro. The switch puts inarguably two of the most athletic Mountaineers into positions where they can make more plays, and it should utilize the talents of each.

"We will see what we can do," Wicks said. "I have never played bandit, so I will try to make the adjustment. Bandit is more out in space in the field. Spur you are more taking on tight ends and cleaning up blocks. It's for more of a strong player. But it doesn't matter to me as long as I can get on the field."

Enter Holmes, a 6-2, 220-pounder from Rockledge, Fla. who, Rockland High head coach Chuck Wood says, could top the 240 pound mark. Holmes will need to remain svelte while gaining weight, however, and keep the speed and change of direction ability he has.

"Right now I am still learning, but I feel as I know more I can do more," Holmes said. "I am able to move a lot more now. Instead of just being in the box, I can be in and out. I can see more. Wherever they say they need me at, that's where I will be."

Holmes says his pass coverage skills are still developing, something expected for a freshman. And though Holmes might be a bit out of position or not picture perfect in coverage at times, his physicality and gift for closing speed and nose for the ball help him make plays others might not. He is working to improve his back peddling and quickness coming out of turns to cover wide receivers.

"My feet work need work right now," Holmes said. "I am so used to moving like a linebacker, side-to-side, that it is tough to move back and forth."

WVU returns to the field today (Friday) at 4 p.m. for the third spring practice. The drills will be in pads for the first time in preparation for Saturday's scrimmage.


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