Safeties In Name Only

The position "safety" implies a last ditch line of defense, but that's certainly not the mindset of Mountaineer assistant coach Steve Dunlap in his search for playmakers in West Virginia's 3-3-5 defense.

Dunlap, who coaches the spur, bandit and free safety spots, is looking for multi-skilled players, especially at the spur position, which is a focal point of the defense.

"Spur is a tough place to play because of the physicality of it," the veteran coach explained. "He's like a glorified outside linebacker, but then he has to go play safety stuff and cover the pass, too. He has a lot of things on his plate.

"The more reactive you are, the closer you can play to the line of scrimmage. If you are playing from me to you with a 250-pound tight end in front of you, you'd better be able to use your hands and react quick. That's what the spur has to do.

Of course, not many players excel at both of those widely diverging skill sets, but Dunlap believes he might have at least one that fits the bill.

"Sidney Glover might be the perfect guy with his physicality," Dunlap noted. "He's 215 pounds and benches 400 pounds and he can run. He's smart, and tough, and he played linebacker in high school, so that doesn't bother him either."

Glover started every regular season game last year, but then missed the Mountaineers' win over North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl due to a knee sprain. He recorded 61 tackles, six pass breakups, an interception, a sack, forced a fumble and recovered another in a solid season. Dunlap hopes, however, that Glover can be even more productive with a year of experience under his belt.

Dunlap also thinks another pair of youngsters, Robert Sands and Eain Smith, have the ability to improve their play. The pair split time at free safety on running downs a year ago, but both were often on the field in West Virginia's SWAT package, in which it employs more pass defenders in passing situations.

"For a young guy Sands did well," Dunlap noted. "He's so tall, he takes awhile to run around when he puts his arms out. Then when we went to SWAT, Eain came in and played free and Sands moved to bandit, the reason being when we went man Smith was the best cover guy we had [at safety]. He could cover the slot and we could blitz Sidney, because he was the better blitzer. I consider Eain a starter, because he did so much for us. There will be times this spring when I will split them up to make sure they have experience playing both free and bandit. Roberts has already done that, just not on running downs."

Such moves should provide both players with more comfort in the defense, and more confidence in knowing multiple positions, and Dunlap believes that both have the ability to do so.

"That's the one thing Robert Sands has. He has football smarts. He's a very bright young man, and so is Eain Smith. They love football, and they thrive on it. I ask them questions and they give me good answers."

However, in the end, good play boils down to just one factor for Dunlap.

"The older I get the more sure I am that the more you execute fundamentals -- f you can tackle well, take good angles to the ball, put your eyes in the right place and be disciplined -- you will win games. It's about the discipline and the faith and trust that they have in me to teach them."

Every player knows the feeling of playing with confidence, of knowing his assignment and playing without hesitation. That's another trait that good fundamentals engender, and Dunlap hopes to build upon those to improve in a couple of areas that were problems a year ago.

"I want to be able to play man better, and I want to be better blitzers," he enumerated. "We tippy-toe too much. This defense is about blitzing, and the spur and the bandit are a big part of that. They have to start doing more damage.

Also, opposing teams are always going to try to run the ball against the 3-3 and we had 80-some power plays against us last year. We have to be ready for that, and we have to be better on third down. All successful defenses are good third down defenses, because they don't see as many plays."

Dunlap and his charges begin spring practice on Mar. 24.


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