A Lock on Depth

As fall camp progresses, David Lockwood has increasingly realized he is in a situation that is far different from his first two seasons back at his alma mater as the defensive backs coach -- this time around, WVU actually has real depth at corner.

That was a position of some concern when Lockwood arrived on campus prior to the 2008 season, and after top cornerback Ellis Lankster moved on to the Buffalo Bills after that year, it became an even bigger issue.

Lockwood had Brandon Hogan at the top of his depth chart going into 2009. On the other side of the field, Keith Tandy was the choice to get a starting nod.

The facts that Hogan had only started playing on the defensive side of the ball in fall camp of 2008 and Tandy had only been part of about 20 snaps on defense before starting in Hogan's stead at the 2008 Meineke Car Care Bowl spoke volumes for the lack of competition at the position.

Quality depth was lacking. Behind Hogan and Tandy, a pair of true freshmen -- Brodrick Jenkins and Pat Miller -- were next in line. Miller saw some action, but Jenkins managed to preserve his redshirt as Hogan and Tandy started every game and never had to miss significant time.

But something happened in the offseason. In spring drills, Hogan was in the coaching staff's proverbial doghouse for several reasons. But there were some positives that came out of the senior's extended trips up and down the Milan Puskar Stadium stairs.

Jenkins emerged as a real player, first usurping Miller on the depth chart, then ending spring with a nose ahead of Hogan. Tandy, infamously victimized in a very public way by South Florida's Carlton Mitchell last season, became more confident and received high praise from both Lockwood and Mountaineer head coach Bill Stewart.

Meanwhile, Miller was still growing in his own right. Hogan did what it took to get back in his coaches' good graces and had a solid summer.

In just a year, Lockwood's position went from one of great concern for West Virginia to one that could give defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel the chance to make good on the seemingly annual predictions that his team will use more aggressive blitz packages, leaving cornerbacks "on an island" in coverage.

"It doesn't compare. Not even close," Lockwood said with a smile, when asked just how much deeper his position is during this fall camp as opposed to previous seasons. "I do feel a lot better that we have some guys that have the chance to help us get better."

While the Mountaineers got lucky a season ago and were able to play Hogan and Tandy essentially for every snap, the coaches know that is not a given.

That notion has been reinforced in recent days, as Tandy and safety Sidney Glover have both been limited in practice with minor hamstring issues. Jenkins, according to Lockwood, has been playing through some groin pain.

Unlike last year, should some of those problems arise mid-season, the position coach would feel a bit more comfortable about who he could put into a game.

"In one play, your 2s become your 1s, and your 3s become your 2s," Lockwood said. "Hopefully, you don't have to be in a situation where you're in a game and that happens to you, you've got a 2 that has to become a 1, and he hasn't had the reps."

While one-on-one drills with the wide receivers during practices go a long way in helping prepare players for the pressure of playing in games, Lockwood said it does not compare with actually being part of a complete coverage scheme.

That makes occasions like Saturday's scrimmage especially important for younger players like Jenkins and Miller, for a talented true freshman like Ishmael Banks -- and even players like Brantwon Bowser and Lawrence Smith, both of whom have shown real signs of improvement this fall, according to Lockwood.

"You want to see everyone get in situations," said the former WVU cornerback. "I like to stand back and not coach as much and let the guys go out there and play and react. Game time, I can't stand out there in center field and give them a heads-up. It is huge."

That hands-off approach in scrimmages almost invariably leads to mistakes. But Lockwood is of the belief that is not such a bad thing, using the example of Jenkins as a player who has to make errors on the field to learn from them and grow.

"If you asked him, he'd tell you that he probably had his worst day [earlier this week]," Lockwood said. "And to me, that has to happen – he has to get run by and he has got to miss a tackle in order for him to realize what he needs to do and as far as the experience, so when he gets out there come game time, he's good to go."

"He's getting some opportunities to go out there and play with the [first-team defense]. Any time you have to go out there and cover Tavon [Austin] and Jock [Sanders] and Bradley [Starks] and those guys every day, you have to feel pretty good at the end of the day."

While there are questions about just who will end up where on the cornerback depth chart -- will Jenkins unseat Hogan as a starter? -- the position coach emphasized that none of the jobs are set in stone at this point.

Indeed, Lockwood seems to have no problem sitting back for now, taking his time to enjoy the luxury of having some real depth at cornerback and letting things sort themselves out over the next few weeks.

"The nice thing is we don't have to make that decision right now," he said. "These guys have the chance to prove themselves and get it done. Bottom line – we'd like to get out of camp with definitely three corners, maybe four corners. Then we'll take it from there."

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