West Virginia Mountaineers Spring Practice Preview: Defensive Back

Our spring practice preview schedule:

When you play the 3-3-5 stack defense, you have a lot of defensive backs on the field.  One more than the usual four, in fact.  That means it becomes 25% more important than in normal defenses.  Luckily, for the Mountaineers, there's a lot of young talent (oh yeah, young talent) coming through the defensive backfield pipeline, including my favorite Mountaineer.

Not much needs to be said about the defense from last season, unless you simply say it was awesome and move along.  It's almost guaranteed not to be as good this year, but unlike the question mark of linebacker, there are some real bright spots at safety and cornerback.

First, let's talk graduation.  Gone are defensive stalwarts Brandon Hogan and Sidney Glover, as well as guys like Derek Knight and Trippe Hale.  Glover amassed 63 tackles last year, and Hogan is mentioned by Mel Kiper Jr. as a potential third round pick, so there is some talent vacating the Mountaineer defense.

And that's graduation.  As we all know, Robert Sands, the freak of nature safety that has been patrolling the backfield has declared as a junior eligible for the NFL Draft.  Without commenting on the appropriateness of that declaration for Sands and his career, it remains a major blow to the defense's prospects for this upcoming season.  The cupboard is certainly not bare, though.

At one of the starting safety positions, spur, sits my favorite Mountaineer: Terence Garvin.  Why Garvin is my favorite Mountaineer, I can't quite say.  One, he looks as imposing in his uniform as any other player on the field, Mountaineer or not.  Two, he already racked up 76 tackles as a sophomore, so you know he has talent.  And three,  feel like I discovered him before anyone else.  I know this isn't true, but sometimes you feel like you were in on something before it went big.  Either way, Garvin should be the best player manning the secondary for the Mountaineers in 2011.

At the free safety position, we have a mix of experience and youth.  Eain Smith, a player who hasn't always been on the correct side of Coach Stewart's doghouse, is projected to start at free safety.  An extremely talented youngster, however, is right on his tail: Travis Bell.  You might remember Bell as a player who initially verbally committed to WVU before switching to Marshall after Doc Holliday left, only to switch back to the Mountaineers on signing day.  In limited playing time, Bell impressed in Morgantown in his freshman season, meaning a sure increase of field scene in 2011.  The depth chart listing as #1b is more a testament to Bell's talents than any shortcoming from Smith.

At the last safety position, a lack of experience is immediately felt with Darwin Cook.  Now, just with the other guys, Cook has talent.  What he doesn't have is a lot of rotations on the field, only recording nine tackles all season.  While that's four more than Bell recorded last year, you would prefer to have someone more battle tested as a starter, especially when you're backup -- Wes Tonkery -- didn't see the field last year.

At corner, the tandem of Keith Tandy and Pat Miller will roam the boundaries, with Brantwon Bowser and Brodrick Jenkins likely tied from the first backup.  Losing Hogan, as mentioned above, won't be easy.  But Tandy has acquitted himself well, and both Miller and Jenkins have shown promise in their limited times in Morgantown (Miller is a junior, Jenkins a redshirt sophomore).  Bowser is also more than capable of stepping for one of the starters.  Vernard Roberts, the highly touted incoming freshman, may start to be eased into the lineup throughout the season.

Overall, it's certainly not the secondary of last year, or the secondary of this year had Robert Sands stayed in school.  Still, it has talent across the board and should more than hold its own against the weak passing games of the Big East Conference.

Projected Depth Chart:

Spur #1: Terence Garvin

Spur #2: Mike Dorsey

 

Bandit #1: Darwin Cook

Bandit #2: Wes Tonkery

 

Free #1a: Eain Smith

Free #1b: Travis Bell

Free #3: Qadral Forte

 

W Corner #1: Keith Tandy

W Corner #2: Brantwon Bowser

 

S Corner #1: Pat Miller

S Corner #2: Brodrick Jenkins

S Corner #3: Vance Roberts

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