Key losses: Keith Washington, Hakeem Bailey, Josh Norwood
Key additions: Daryl Porter Jr., Jackie Matthews, Alonzo Addae, David Vincent-Okoli, Scottie Young
The 2019 Mountaineer defensive backfield ended up performing better than it had any right to following the departures of standouts Derrek Pitts and Kenny Robinson the previous spring and Jovanni Stewart just prior to conference play. We gave up a fair bit of yardage through the air (240/game, 6th in the Big 12) and didn’t force many interceptions (8, 7th), but we were really good at limiting big plays (37 plays of 20+ yards, 2nd), which continues to become more important with each passing year. Keith Washington and Hakeem Bailey will be tough to replace at corner, but with a pair of breakout stars returning at safety and a whole heap of talented youngsters vying to stake a claim in the rotation, there’s no reason we can’t be one of the better units in the conference by the end of the season.
Miller arrived on campus two springs ago with all of the fanfare you’d expect from the #3 JUCO CB in the country, but unfortunately his season was derailed by injury before he ever really got started. Now he enters his redshirt junior season with a point to prove and a whole host of underclassmen breathing down his neck for playing time. I expect him to respond well to the situation based on nothing but his online persona, which paints him as an extremely confident young man who has no shortage of belief in himself. Miller has a prototypical build (a lanky 6’1 192) and all the talent in the world, and I expect him to be a really good player for us this year.
Matthews is deservedly this year’s high profile JUCO corner after a 1st team All-American performance last year at Mississippi Gulf Coast CC. Matthews has good size (5’11 189) and excellent ball skills (6 INTs last year), so for him it will be about how quickly he can adjust to the speed of the game at the P5 level. It’s hard to see a scenario where he’s not heavily involved in the corner rotation this year.
Nicktroy Fortune had a rough first month in 2019, but really came into his own and cemented himself as the third corner behind Washington and Bailey by year’s end. He now enters his sophomore season as the surefire starter opposite Dreshun Miller, and at 6’0 191, he has the size to compete against even the biggest of receivers in the Big 12. Any improvement on that extremely encouraging final month of 2019 will make him an above average starter in the league, and the expectation is for him to develop into something even more than that.
Daryl Porter Jr.
Porter has received every bit as much buzz this fall as Tykee Smith did last fall. Simply put, the guy has been making plays for four straight weeks, the coaches have all taken notice, and with incoming freshmen receiving a “free” redshirt it’s hard to imagine him not being heavily involved this year.
Addae made the decision to transfer from New Hampshire ahead of the 2019 season when his cousin, Jahmile, found his way home to Morgantown as part of Neal Brown’s inaugural staff. I’ll confess that I don’t know a ton about Addae, but it seems like he was reasonably productive in his two years with the Wildcats and at 6’0 190 he certainly has the size to compete at the P5 level. Even if he ends up behind Mayo in the pecking order, he brings solid experience to the rotation.
Mayo was able to retain his redshirt a year ago, but the fact that he even cracked the rotation and was in the mix for meaningful playing time as a true freshman is a testament to his potential. I was actually a bit surprised to see him as low down the original cornerback depth chart as he was, but it makes a bit more sense now that Neal Brown has announced that he’s getting a look at free safety. Mayo may be a tad undersized (5’10 175) but has outstanding ball skills and should immediately be in the mix for the starting job.
You hate to think that a guy’s time has passed to make a real impact here, but that might just be the case with Jake Long. Long’s on-field production has simply never matched his athletic ability, and now it seems like the next generation is rightfully being given their chance. Long was serviceable on limited defensive snaps last year and figures to see action on special teams this year, but I expect Mayo to take the lion’s share of the playing time here once he gets his feet wet.
One of the pleasant surprises of the 2019 season was Sean Mahone coming out of his shell and putting in a very good year of work for us in Derrek Pitts’ absence. The Cat safety position turned out to be an extremely natural fit for him, allowing him to use his athleticism to fly around and make plays at every level of the defense. Mahone led the team in tackles while registering 5 TFL, 2 sacks, and an interception, a performance warranting a preseason 2nd team All-Conference selection from Phil Steele heading into 2020. In addition to his playmaking, the redshirt senior’s experience will be invaluable to a unit that will be blooding a number of new starters and contributors.
Noah Guzman was a late addition to the 2019 Mountaineers, but that didn’t stop him from making an impact last year. Guzman appeared in 9 games and started 1, and generally acquitted himself well for a guy who was playing at Cerritos College in California less than a year earlier. Guzman is by all accounts an extremely hard worker, and we could do a lot worse than him as far as rotational guys go.
Other Names to Know
Like Tony Fields, Scottie Young was a three year starter at Arizona who cited his relationship with Jahmile Addae as playing a central role in his winding up in Morgantown. Unlike Fields, however, Young is currently stuck in the NCAA transfer waiver process waiting for an approval. If he clears waivers, you’d have to think he’ll immediately be in the rotation at free safety.
A 4-star athlete out of the DMV, DVO was the highest rated player in #TakeMeHome20. He may have a difficult time cracking the two-deep at corner this year, but the prevailing feeling from the WVU team at 247sports seems to be that he’s simply too explosive (he was a high school track STAR) to not see the field in some capacity this year, whether that’s in the return game or even on offense.