Swapping Spots for SWAT

With a position coach that has emphasized the need for safeties to be able to play multiple positions in the back of WVU's unique 3-3-5 defense, Eain Smith has learned to play both his typical free safety position and the spur spot in the team's "SWAT" package.

That "SWAT" unit is West Virginia's go-to group on third downs. The idea is to get fast, athletic players onto the field in positions where they can create havoc and help the defense get off the field.

"When we run SWAT, we expect more pass than anything," said Eain Smith. "As a defense, we try to get pressure."

"At free (safety), I'm mostly back (to cover) the long ball. At spur, I'm mostly blitzing and coming down -- a more aggressive type, more man and more in the box. That's why I'm there on SWAT."

Forcing his players to learn to play multiple spots has been one of the things safeties coach Steve Dunlap has focused on since joining the Mountaineer coaching staff before last season. While it may add more to each player's plate, Smith said he sees the benefits.

"It helps us better learn the defense, actually," the third-year sophomore said. "There's not a coverage where I don't know what each safety does. It helps us because one player goes down, we can just fill it right in and keep it going."

While it would seem as though having a player line up at one position on two plays before moving to another for third down would effect that person's ability to get into a rhythm or a comfort zone, the Miramar, Fla., native said that isn't the case.

"We do it in practice, so it shouldn't be a big deal," Smith said. "We just go with the flow and pick up the slack."

"You've got to be mentally in the game, ready for changes and ready when the opportunity comes."

That may help Smith and company this weekend as they take on an opponent that has found plenty of success through the air so far this season.

While a game against Syracuse may have been chalked up as an easy win in the past by some, Smith said that the squad he and his teammates will face on Saturday is different in many ways.

"We've got our hands full in this game," he said..

"I think in all aspects, they're not the same Syracuse you've seen for the past couple of years. They've got a couple of playmakers and a new coaching staff, so it's going to be a better game."

The primary concern for Smith and his teammates in the WVU secondary is receiver Mike Williams.

The pass-catcher is tops in the Big East Conference in both receptions and receiving yards. He ranks third nationally in the latter category and is fifth in average receiving yards per contest.

"(He's a) good receiver," Smith said of the 6-foot-2 Williams. "He's the leading receiver in the Big East, so we've got our hands full on that one, too."

While Smith did say he believes that SU quarterback Greg Paulus doesn't quite have the arm or the athleticism of Cody Hawkins, the signal-caller for the Colorado team WVU defeated last Thursday night, he said he still believes Paulus can make plays.

"He's a player," Smith said of Paulus. "He's an athlete."

"He's not scared (to throw any pass). From the film I watched, he is not afraid."

As there may be an increased likelihood of safeties being rolled down to help cover Williams, it will help to have Smith at full strength. The safety said he was "good" this week after sustaining a stinger in his shoulder in the Colorado win.

While the West Virginia pass defense has been suspect at times through the first four games of the season, Smith said he believes the secondary is showing signs of turning things around.

"We're getting better each game," he said. "We've still got a lot to improve on, but as a unit, we're gelling together."

"It's all about gelling together, knowing our assignments in the game and not having mental mistakes so we don't mess ourselves up."

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