Pressure to Perform

With just over a week remaining before the start of fall camp, WVU players and coaches alike are shifting their focus away from what has transpired this summer in the weight room to what they hope will occur on the field of play.

For cornerbacks coach David Lockwood, that means hitting the ground running with his players when the first practice of the fall begins on August 8.

"We just simply have got to kind of pick up where we left off in the spring and find out who can do what on a consistent basis," Lockwood said.

Part of that process will entail the early evaluation of incoming freshmen Broderick Jenkins and Pat Miller.

While there is only so much any coach can know about a true freshman until that player is on the field against other college talents, Lockwood said the process of recruiting and evaluating the two cornerbacks a year ago helped him learn a bit about them.

"They're two very good kids that will have a chance to help this program," the second-year cornerbacks coach said. "They both can run. They're both athletic. And what I've heard from talking to some of the older guys, before it's all said and done with their four or five years here, they're going to help this program."

While Jenkins and Miller are just preparing to begin their careers in a West Virginia uniform, their position coach said that if either of them exhibits the skill it takes to play in the team's odd-stack defense, they would have the chance to see the field sooner rather than later.

"They will have an opportunity to contribute," Lockwood said. "A lot of that depends on how much they can handle and what they can do. The bottom line is, when we put the pads on and get out there and start evaluating and scrimmaging and doing things, who's going to do what? Who's going to make the plays?"

"I don't care if it's a senior, junior, sophomore or freshman. They guys that make the plays on a consistent basis will be the guys who have a chance to play."

The Mountaineer cornerbacks may be called upon to make those plays on a more consistent basis this year. The team's defensive coaching staff, headed by coordinator Jeff Casteel, has hinted that the team may be more aggressive in blitzing this year than it has been in past seasons.

Blitzing, by its nature, often leaves defensive backs in one-on-one situation with the receivers they are covering -- a simple concept Lockwood has previously referred to as "dude coverage", meaning "go cover that dude."

Heading into the season with the knowledge that his players will be put in those tough situations more often than they had previously may be a bit stressful for a position coach, but Lockwood acknowledged the need for the defense to put additional pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

"That's something we talked about as a defensive staff and something we feel as though we need to do more of, obviously -- especially in third down situations so we can get off the field and give our offense the ball," he said.

A season ago, third downs were something akin to kryptonite for the WVU defense. That weakness has become a point of emphasis for improvement this season -- indeed, it seems to be the main reason why Casteel and company are planning to blitz more than in previous years.

"The biggest thing we've got to do better is third down," Lockwood said. "First and second down, we were pretty daggone good (last year). The bottom line is, I don't care what they've done on first and second down -- when it becomes third down, we've got to get off the field."

The defensive staff should be encouraged by the fact that most of the key players from a season ago return with another year under their belts. And while the coaches themselves can not watch the action during summer 7-on-7 drills, the reports from the players back to the coaches should be equally encouraging.

"I've heard nothing but great things -- positive things, especially from our older guys," Lockwood said. "They've simply said that it's been the best 7-on-7 or best summer since they've been here. As coaches that makes us feel really good. When you look at the length of our season, there's no doubt that will pay off sometime during the year."

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