Two For One

One of the goals of West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel is to have the spur and bandit be interchangeable in terms of their assignments and abilities. Achieving that would allow the Mountaineer defensive staff to be even trickier in its alignments and looks. Could the same philosophy be applied to two other positions on the WVU defense?

The spur and bandit, which have both safety and linebacker-type responsibilities, are growing a bit more interchangeable as veteran players become more comfortable in Casteel's 3-3-5 defensive alignment. While each position still has its own unique qualities, Casteel and assistant coach Bruce Tall, who tutors the players at those spots, are now able to hide some of their coverages and schemes better, as the two spots aren't locked into defined roles as much as in the past. The question is, could the same idea help at another position? With WVU's depth at defensive back one of the biggest concerns of the fall, might a player or two be developed that could man both the boundary and field cornerback positions?

"You'd like to be able to do that," secondary coach Tony Gibson told, "but there are a few things that make that more difficult. When you look at your boundary corner, he has to focus on a few different things, because in different formations you have to predict where he's going to be. The field corner is always the same. You'd like a kid to be able to do both. Brian King or PacMan could do both. Antonio Lewis is probably a good enough athlete to do both. But at this point I'd like to keep the field and boundary separate, just for coverage reasons and also because of some of the different things we do. Because of the learning curve, I don't want to make it too high for those guys."

Gibson isn't going to shut the door on such a move, and he's also going to play his cards close to the vest. For that reason, he obviously isn't going to spell out some of the "different things" that WVU will be doing this year in the secondary. However, he was willing to share a few of the general difference between the two spots, and some of the different challenges that face each.

"Your boundary corner is going to be the physical guy, the guy who has to help against the run, and we have blitzes in the scheme for him, among some other things," the Van, W. Va. native explained. "There are a lot of different things he has to do that the field corner does not have to do. The field corner might get caught sometimes and have to do some of those things if the offense puts a player in motion. He might get caught on the tight end side, and have to do [what the boundary corner does] for one or two snaps, but for the 35-40 snaps that a boundary corner has to deal with it – the field corner is just not built for it. They both do have to be physical, and they do have to know it, but we'd prefer to keep them separate."

The boundary corner has to be prepared to take on blockers and make tackles against the run – he's the extra run defender, usually on the short side of the field. The field corner is usually the better coverage man, able to face off against a team's best receiver and cover him all over the field in man to man, or cover more ground in a zone. With such differing skills, it's not surprising to see that few players are equipped to handle the wide range of duties. And that's before foes begin doing tricky things to try to isolate corners and get them out of their comfort zones.

"Motion is the number one thing offenses do to try to trip defenses up," Gibson said. "It changes the strength of the formation. Or maybe they go unbalanced. Anytime they have double width as far as wideouts, we are in good shape. The field corner doesn't have to change much at all. But when they do make him change, he has to be ready for it."

One thing Gibson doesn't have to worry about is the interaction between the spur and bandit in front of the corner. While each obviously has to know his assignment and what's going on around him, the spur and bandit don't get affected by motion or formation changes like the corners do.

"We have different calls to make to give the spur and bandit different looks," Gibson detailed. The formation of the offense will not dictate what we do with them. Motion doesn't affect them at all. That's the beauty of this defense. No matter what we have called, we can play it no matter what they are in with the spur and bandit."

So, while Gibson would like to have the flexibility at corner that the spurs and bandits currently enjoy, it's probably not going to happen, at least this year. Thus, his players must concentrate on improving themselves and being ready to react to whatever the offense does.

"The biggest thing is learning the way the different teams will attack us," he noted. "We study formations and personnel grouping all week. Say they have two tight ends and one back, we will adjust how we are going to play it that week and be ready for it."

"Preparation" is a mantra for the ultra-competitive Gibson, who believes he can have his players ready for anything they see. Even if a foe breaks out of it's habits or unveils an entirely different formation, there's no reason, so far as he sees, that his players can't handle it.

"If that happens, it's our fault," Gibson said of the eventuality that an opponent breaks a big play because his charges weren't ready for the formation or tendency-breaker. "All we want our kids to do is react to it and do the best they can until we can adjust to it. We have to make sure they are ready to handle anything."

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