Lockwood, in his first season as cornerbacks coach after stints as secondary coach at Kentucky and defensive coordinator at Minnesota, said that despite the lack of experience and near dearth of returning starters, this spring should prove no different than any other.
"The way I look at it, if a guy has played or not played or started and or not started, I still have to coach them up," said Lockwood, a former Mountaineer player on the 1988 unbeaten team. "The bigger a deal you make out of it the bigger it is. Bottom line, we have to get guys ready to play."
West Virginia lost corners Antonio Lewis, Vaughn Rivers and Larry Williams, free safety Ryan Mundy and spur safeties Eric Wicks and Ridwan Malik to exhausted eligibility and safety John Holmes when he was dismissed from the team. Of now, the two-deep entering the March 14 opening of spring practice shows Boogie Allen and Nate Sowers at free safety, Sidney Glover and Justin Blankenship at spur, Quinton Andrews and Charles Pugh at bandit and Kent Richardson and Ellis Lankster the starting corners with reserves Brantwon Bowser – a junior college transfer from Phoenix Community College – and Guesly Dervil.
Lockwood says the first step each spring is to begin with players who saw time last season and build from there. No slots are locked in and, indeed, will remain open for challenges at all times. But without a centerpiece around which to build, spring drills will be as wide open as at any time. Along with the entire secondary, outside the bandit position, being rebuilt, the coaching staff and players must adjust to new styles and a slightly modified scheme that will at times showcase a four-man front before the snap. WVU's odd stack defense uses three down lineman, then often rushes another player or two, even on base downs. That sets up as a four-man look shortly after the snap. Now, with former Mountaineer defensive coordinator Steve Dunlap back on staff overseeing safeties, coordinator Jeff Casteel and head coach Bill Stewart have given the green light for a bit of the 4-3.
During Dunlap's tenure at West Virginia, it ran a 4-3 as its base defense, but with a rush end that helped it mimic areas of the odd stack. Adding a two-deep look last season should further help the transition, as the pair of safeties splitting the field is exactly what Dunlap would use in a true four-man. The changes should not be difficult for the secondary, Lockwood said, because they won't nearly be wholesale, but instead just a series of slight tweaks to give the defense yet another dimension and increase versatility.
"There are a lot of times you turn on our film and we end up being a four-man front," Lockwood said. "It's just who is that fourth guy? That's where the confusion comes in. Nine times out of 10 we are in a four-man. I have run a three-man front in some places I have been, but it has been more of a sub-package, for third and longs and other situations. Now it is every down. The fit is a lot easier than people think as far as coverage or different looks. There is not much difference in the two fronts."
Drills start March 14 and continue until the spring game on April 19. West Virginia will hold its NFL Pro Day at noon inside the Caperton Indoor Practice Facility on March 13. It then drills the 14th, 15th, 17th and 19th before Spring Break. The team resumes practice March 31st, holding 10 more sessions until the Gold-Blue game. Kickoff is at 12:30 p.m. with a $5 admission.
"We will take a look at things next week, and I will guarantee things will change throughout spring," Lockwood said. "You look at a couple guys who played last year and go from there. I always tell them if they are not satisfied with where they are on the depth chart it is up to them to change it. It's no different than many other places. If I would have stayed at Kentucky I would have had three or four (starters) coming back with a real good one and another with a chance to be as good as the All-American (Trevard Lindley) on the other side. But the job is always to coach them up. Guys have opportunities to be a starter."