Gibson isn't complaining about the challenge, however. A native West Virginia with a work ethic that meets challenges head on, the former defensive back knows that the best way to rebuild the secondary is to have daily competition – along with daily improvement. It's also not as if the cupboard is bare, either. WVU has some players with experience, and also will look to some incoming freshmen to help in certain situations. However, Gibson knows that he will have to move quickly to meld all those pieces into a cohesive unit.
Building that group falls into three phases: spring practice, summer workouts and fall camp. We caught up with Gibson, who has been on the road recruiting for much of time since the end of spring drills, to get his assessment of where the secondary stands following the spring.
First, the good news.
"I think we can win with Quinton Andrews and Abraham Jones at free safety, said Gibson, who, like many, was impressed with the speed at which Andrews plays. "They both stepped up in the spring and did a good job."
Jones likewise improved, likely due to the challenge provided by Andrews, who turned heads during his redshirt season a year ago. Together, the pair should be a solid duo in the back of the West Virginia defense.
While the situation isn't as good at cornerback (those are the spots Gibson was referring to when he talked about work still to be done), he does think his troops have the talent to become effective players. It's simply that the progression hasn't gone as quickly as he would like.
"At the corner spots, Larry Williams and Antonio Lewis give us some good experience coming back," said the Van, W. Va. native. "Vaughn Rivers coming back over from offense helps out some too. He can play either side [boundary corner or field corner], and that helps. Kent Richardson is coming along too, but he still needs to get some work.
"We aren't where we need to be at this point," Gibson analyzed. "We aren't ready to be conference champs or meet our goals at those spots. I think if they continue to get better and build on what they did in the spring we will be all right, but there's still work to be done. I think the product we put out there on September 2nd will be pretty good."
While coaches hope for a steady progression from their charges, things don't always work out that way. Big leaps in productivity can be followed by a case of the doldrums, where little improvement is seen. Such was the case for West Virginia this spring, but Gibson believes he has pinpointed the cause of the uneven period.
"I think early on in the spring we got better every day for the first four or five practices, but then we kind of leveled off. I think that was due to throwing a lot of stuff at them at one time, and I think that hurt their learning process a little bit. They started making mistakes they weren't making the first few days," he noted
Now it's on to the second phase – a time when Gibson won't be able to evaluate the improvements his charges make. NCAA rules prohibit coaches from being on the field, or even watching, workouts over the summer, so Gibson will be a bit in the dark as to what the secondary has accomplished until they reassemble for the first day of fall practice. That puts the onus on team leaders to organize and run drills, and ensure that everyone is executing correctly. While it's a frustrating time for coaches, who can't be involved, it's also a valuable one in terms of improvement.
"There's no question players can get a lot better in the summer," Gibson noted. The secondary guys can improve just like the offensive skill guys in the summer. They will be out there working in one on one and skelly every day. We're not allowed to be there, but we have some leaders out there that will make sure the right things get done.
"Now it's time for some new guys to come up and fill the role that a guy like Jahmile Addae did. He was a guy who did a lot of great things for us on and off the field. Larry Williams, Antonio Lewis, Abraham Jones – those guys have to take charge now."
When phase three begins this fall, Gibson hopes that a natural selection process will have identified some new leaders in the secondary, and that all of his players will be ready to put together all the different coverages and schemes he began installing over the spring. However, he will also have to work in the incoming freshmen, one or more of which could challenge for some playing time.
"The young kids coming in – Greg Davis, Boogie Allen and Robert Williams – we'll try to work them in on third down packages first," explained Gibson. "We can teach them one or two things to do on those coverages, maybe man and one zone coverage, and spoon feed them to get them into the flow. That's what we did with Antonio Lewis his first year, too. Then, as they get more confidence and we get confident in what they can do, then they can play a lot more."