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2018 West Virginia Football Position Preview: The Safeties

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West Virginia has established starters at all three safety positions and a surprisingly talented two-deep; can they be the difference makers our defense so desperately needs them to be in 2018?

West Virginia's use of the 3-3-5 stack means that safeties naturally play an important role in our defense. Ever since we first adopted the scheme nearly two decades ago, their athleticism has been crucial to our ability to defend in space, and their versatility has allowed us to guard against multiple formations and personnel groupings without having to substitute ourselves.

We've been fortunate enough over the past several years to have produced some really good ones, as well, placing three (Karl Joseph, KJ Dillon, and Kyzir White) in the NFL in the last three years alone. This year's group, which features an absolutely ideal mix of veterans and youngsters, should be no different.

2018 West Virginia Mountaineer Safeties

Number Player Height Weight Year Depth
Number Player Height Weight Year Depth
2 Kenny Robinson 6'-2" 198 Sophomore FREE
3 Toyous Avery 5'-11 205 R-Senior BANDIT
4 Josh Norwood 5'-10" 174 R-Junior FS2
6 Dravon Askew-Henry 6'-0" 202 R-Senior SPUR
8 Kwantel Raines 6'-3" 198 Freshman No Exp
9 Javanni Stewart 5'-8" 191 Junior SS2
11 Chase Hill 5'-11" 176 Freshman Scout Team
25 Osman Kamara 5'-10 206 R-Sophomore FS3
27 E.J. Brown 5'-10" 204 R-Freshman BS2
28 Rashon Lusane 5'-11" 203 R-Sophomore Scout Team
39 Dante Bonamico 5'-8" 180 R-Sophomore Scout Team
2018 Mountaineer Safeties WVUSports.com

THE STARTERS

The unquestioned leader of the bunch is 6'1 senior Dravon Askew-Henry. The former freshman All-American is moving from bandit to spur this year following the departure of the aforementioned Kyzir White, and he’ll be looking for a bounceback campaign after a somewhat disappointing 2017. He was still able to finish 4th on the team in tackles and managed a handful of PBUs and an interception, but it just felt like he wasn't 100% confident in his knee yet (an ACL injury ended his sophomore season), and at this level of football that split-second of hesitation can be the difference between making the play and missing it. It's hard to know if we can expect him to get back to being the explosive playmaker that he used to be, but with five years in the program and experience at all three safety positions, he's definitely a guy that we can count on to get both himself and his teammates into the right spots.

On the other edge will be fellow redshirt senior Toyous Avery, now in his third year in the program after transferring from Coffeyville CC in Kansas. Avery missed a handful of games last year with injuries but generally acquitted himself well when he was on the field, recording 20 tackles and 4 PBU's in five starts. Avery's more of a "right place, right time" kind of guy rather than true a game breaker, but I'm certainly not going to complain about having 10 years' combined college experience on our flanks.

The back end will be manned by last year's breakout newcomer, Kenny Robinson. Robinson predictably started slowly in 2017, but by mid-October it was already obvious that he wasn't your typical true freshman. At a rangy 6'2, Robinson has prototypical size for a modern free safety, and his instincts and knack for popping up around the ball are downright Josephian. I hate to get ahead myself here, but if he continues on his current trajectory he has a chance to be one of the better safeties we've ever had.

THE BACKUPS

The safety two-deep is fairly green from a "games played for WVU" perspective, but on paper at least there appears be plenty of raw talent. There also appears to be a lot of cross-training going between the three positions in practice, which should help us down the road in the event of an injury.

Headlining that backup brigade is true freshman Kwantel Raines. The 6'3 205-pound Raines was one of the crown jewels of the 2018 recruiting class and possesses the size and skill set to play in a variety of positions, which coincidentally makes him an ideal fit for the spur. Full disclosure: I have a documented history of man-crushing on Kwantel Raines and have been looking forward to him lacing up for the Old Gold and Blue since the first time I watched his junior year HS tape almost two years ago. Though he'll likely spend most of this year tucked under Dravon Askew-Henry's exceptionally seasoned wing (an ideal scenario considering they grew up down the street from one another in Aliquippa), there's no doubt in my mind that he can help us right away if and when he's called upon.

Backing up Toyous Avery at bandit is JoVanni Stewart, a junior from Katy, TX. Stewart, who has experience at all three safety positions and saw extensive action last year on special teams, is exactly the kind of guy you want to have on the two-deep - experienced and versatile enough to be able to step into a variety of roles and do a job. He's a bit undersized at just 5'8 and 190 pounds, but if his special teams work is any indication, he has no problem throwing his body around and mixing it up with the big boys.

The final two-deep spot is, for now at least, occupied by Josh Norwood, a redshirt junior who transferred in from Northwest Mississippi CC after one year at Ohio State. The 5'10 Norwood's pedigree is beyond question - you don't play for the Buckeyes as a freshman without major league ability - but it remains to be seen how quickly he'll be able to pick up our scheme. Another thing holding him back at this point is the existence of Kenny Robinson, but I'm sure Tony Gibson would agree that there are worse problems to have. I'd look for Norwood to become a bigger factor as he gets more comfortable, possibly even at corner.

As for the other guys who might see time this year, there are several who've received positive reviews for their performances in camp. Redshirt freshman EJ Brown is reportedly in the mix at the free with Norwood starting to get looks out wide, while Martinsburg native Deamonte Lindsay will be battling Kwantel for playing time at spur after being named Scout Team DPOY in 2017. Sean Mahone's name has even popped up as somebody who might be able to help provide depth if necessary.

HIGHLIGHTS