Master Conductor

During spring practice, veteran defensive assistant Steve Dunlap made a point to move his safeties to different positions on the field. That considered action, which raised some eyebrows at the time, paid off in a big way in West Virginia's 31-0 win over Coastal Carolina on Saturday.

Most fans probably didn't notice, but Robert Sands didn't play at his usual position of free safety. He moved down from his accustomed spot at the back of the defense to bandit, taking the place of Sidney Glover. Sands' spot was ably filled by Eain Smith, who has likewise bounced between those two positions during his WVU career.

The move left a question as to the status of Glover, who was healthy enough to play on West Virginia's third down packages. Glover, who has been penciled as a starter on most preseason depth charts, was apparently moved to a backup role. Although Dunlap didn't comment on that specifically, his comments on the change-up were telling.

"We are going to put our three best safeties out there and Eain is one of our three best," Dunlap said of the move. "Robert played bandit the whole game, and I told him he had to get his big boy pads on because he will get dinged around in there. It's a little different deal than standing back ten yards [at free safety] all the time."

"Eain played free in Robert's spot," Dunlap continued. "Everybody went a little crazy in the spring when we put Robert at bandit some, but you have to get your best players on the field."

With Terence Garvin at spur, Dunlap, at least for a week, identified those three as his best players. Glover, who missed some time in the preseason due to injury, is certainly still in the picture, as his participation on third down defenses shows, but for now it appears as if the starters seen in the Coastal game will remain.

While he was pleased with the play of the secondary as a whole, Dunlap was also quick to credit the pressure generated by the Mountaineer defensive front, especially on passing downs. Although WVU didn't record a sack, it pressured Chanticleer quarterbacks heavily, forcing early throws that didn't allow receivers much time to operate.

"We put so much pressure on that poor quarterback on third down that he had a hard time releasing the ball," Dunlap confirmed. "If we continue to do that it makes the secondary coaches awfully smart. Hopefully, that four-man front on third down will keep producing for us."

In the meantime, Dunlap will also continue to look at different combinations in the secondary and groom backups. He was pleased with the play of his substitutes in the late going, but noted that playing time in that situation is a little different than in a heated contest.

"All of the backups are freshmen and redshirt freshmen," he noted. "I don't want to throw them into the fire, and into the heat of battle, until they are ready to go. There's nowhere to hide back there. If you make a mistake, it's going to be a touchdown. As good as Robert is, you have to remember that he didn't start until his fourth game. I don't want to put them in there until they are confident and ready to go."

In addition to simple playing time, Dunlap was also happy to see the secondary, especially the backups, put under some stress. At one point in the third quarter, West Virginia had but four defensive starters on the field. A combination of normal rotation and a quick spate of injuries left the defense short-handed, but to their credit, it responded with another third down stop.

"We were scrambling there for a while. That's why I don't have any hair left," Dunlap laughed. "What's more is that a lot of those kids are on special teams, so you have kind of a double whammy there [in terms of substitution]. Then we tried to put a sub team in with our four-man front team, and it gets really confusing.

"For example Darwin Cook plays spur on the 40 team and bandit on the regular defense. Well, the bandit got hurt, so he was in there. He's running off the field, and we are waving him back on the field to play bandit, and he thinks he's going back in to play spur, and then Eain is telling him to play bandit. I'm sitting there, and (here Dunlap gasps in mock horror).

Still, it all worked out – and that's another check mark to the defense's credit. Youngsters filled their roles. Sands and Smith played their entire tours of duty at a "new" position. That switch made Sands a bigger factor in run defense, and brought his hitting into play even more. Perhaps most importantly, the players on the field were able to adapt.

"That's a credit to the kids. They worked it out and got it done. That's great for them, and a great experience. They were thinking on their feet, and that's what the guys in the back need to be able to do."


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