The Mountaineers are fully submerged in their spring football practices with the spring game just a week away. The players and coaches are using this time to find what works for the team, on all sides of the ball, and hone in on that. Earlier in the week, several members of the football coaching staff were available to the media post-practice where they spoke on what they’ve observed thus far in spring ball.
Associate head coach and defensive coordinator Tony Gibson was asked what could be a daunting question; whether there were things he was still unsatisfied with this spring. Coach Gibson is typically one to speak candidly, whether good or bad, and was still that way in his response. Gibson is pleased with the work and reps all of his safeties have put in this spring, as it has allowed many to get their hands on the ball.
“I wouldn’t say a lot. I would say I’m happy right now with our safeties . . . On our (defensive) line, I really like (sophomore defensive lineman) Darius (Stills), (junior defensive lineman) Reese (Donahue), (senior defensive lineman) Zeke (Ezekiel Rose), (redshirt sophomore defensive lineman) (Jeffery) Pooler (Jr.). Those four guys are showing progress, so we’re good there. We need a few more guys to step up,” Gibson said. “(Redshirt sophomore cornerback) Jake Long, (redshirt sophomore cornerback) Sean Mahone, (redshirt junior cornerback) Keith Washington, (sophomore cornerback) (Derrek) Pitts (Jr.), they are getting to go up, obviously, against probably the best quarterback in the country, in my opinion, and some pretty good wide receivers. They do a good job of holding up, and we just have to continue to keep getting better.”
Assistant coach Doug Belk sung the praises of redshirt junior cornerback Hakeem Bailey and his work as a cornerback, as well as the rest of the cornerbacks.
“(Redshirt junior cornerback) Hakeem (Bailey) has played the most, he’s gotten better fundamentally and with technique. (Redshirt sophomore cornerback) Sean Mahone, (redshirt sophomore cornerback) Jake Long have done really well. (Redshirt junior cornerback) Keith Washington has been a pleasant surprise since he stepped in. He’s done well, too,” Belk said. “For (redshirt junior cornerback) Hakeem (Bailey), I base everything that we do off competition. I want the guys to be consistent, so the expectations are high for him, but he has to win the job and continue to be successful every day and compete at a high level. If he does that, then he’ll be in a good position. If he doesn’t, all those other guys want to play, too.”
Linebackers coach Mark Scott shined light on what it is like for a linebacker to transition from outside to inside, something the team has tried this spring.
“I think it depends on the player. With how smart (redshirt sophomore linebacker) Dylan (Tonkery) is, his football IQ has grown leaps and bounds over the last year and a half. We’ve had guys do it in the past. Nick Kwiatkowski, he moved from SAM to MIKE, and when Jared Barber came back from injury, he ended up moving back out to SAM,” Scott remarked. “Normally, it’s easier to move from outside to inside as opposed to inside to out, because you’re playing in less space, getting your eyes right and seeing different keys to allow you to anticipate and play faster. It just takes time and reps, which is what spring football is about.”
The phrase “defense always wins games” has long been said, and likely constantly repeated by Coach Gibson, and is definitely an area to get stronger in during spring ball. In a league as dynamic as the Big 12, the Mountaineers need to capitalize on all the improvements they can make on defense this spring, in order to prepare for the fall season. Now is the time to work out the kinks and be ready for what league play will bring. September will be here before we know it.