Tony Gibson has brought some consistency to the Mountaineer defense during his tenure as West Virginia’s defensive coordinator.
The start of the 2016 season was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the DAWGS, replacing NFL talent Karl Joseph, KJ Dillon, Nick Kwiatkoski, Daryl Worley and Terrell Chestnut. Then add a defensive leader in Jared Barber to graduation and losing free safety Dravon Askew-Henry to a season ending knee injury.
There was some cause for concern for the Mountaineer faithful going into the 2016 season on the defensive side of the ball but one thing this coaching staff has done is build depth and the next man up mantra has never been so true to this Mountaineer program as of late.
The Mountaineer defense stepped up in 2016 having to replace all the talent from the 2015 squad They finished in the top half of almost team defensive category and was just behind Kansas State in scoring defense giving up 24 points per game through 13 games.
The defense is in a similar situation going into the season, but they will be filling up the vacant positions with guys who have been in the program for a few years now and know what’s expected of them.
Lets look at the new starters to this years defense;
Defensive tackle Xavier Pegues (R-Sr) was redshirted his first year in Morgantown in 2015. Last year, he did not see any game action due to an injury in fall camp that kept him out for the season. This will be his third year in Tony’s system.
Defensive end Adam Shuler (R-Sr) is coming off a solid season, getting onto the field in all 13 games, adding depth behind Noble Nwachukwu. Finished the year with 33 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss and a sack.
Defensive end Reese Donahue (Soph) added depth last year and played in 12 games last year, finished the season with 12 tackles.
Sam (OLB) Xavier Preston (Jr) backed up Justin Arndt last season and seen action in 10 games last year. Ended the year with 11 tackles, a tackle for a loss and a sack.
Will (OLB) Dylan Tonkery (R- Fr) will see his first snap at the collegiate level on September 3rd. This was a little bit of surprise but not too big of a surprise as Holgorsen said “he tested elite”.
The secondary will pull guys in and out of the line up and will all see the field. Depending on the matchups, that’s who will see the most snaps in certain situations. The defensive staff has done an excellent job developing the secondary the last few years and wouldn’t be surprised if you see them switch sides of the field from time to time.
Left Cornerback Hakeem Bailey (R-Jr) has turned some heads since stepping onto campus in January from Iowa Western Community College and got the not to start week 1 against Virginia Tech.
Left Cornerback Elijah Battle (Sr) was in eleven games last year and started three. Finished the season with 23 tackles and a pass breakup.
Right Cornerback Mike Daniels Jr (Sr) added depth in the secondary working his way into 6 games on the season. Finished the season with 1 tackle.
Right Cornerback Corey Winfield (R-Sr) was a two year starter at Syracuse. Finished his career with
• with 85 tackles, three sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 6 pass breakups and a forced fumble.
Safety Toyous Avery (R-Jr) played in 11 games last year and earned the start in the bowl game against Miami. Finished the year with 24 tackles (21 solo), a tackle for a loss and 3 pass breakups.
This secondary has all new faces, but it was filled in by transfers and college graduates just like last years squad and two of them are currently in the NFL. I have no doubt that this years pass defenders will not disappoint.
Leading this group of newcomers to the depth chart will be middle Linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton, safety Kyzir White and safety Dravon Askew-Henry.
As a whole this defensive may not have seen a lot of football in the Old Gold and Blue but have plenty of experience.
This is probably the most athletic defense West Virginia has had since Tony Gibson has taken the reigns as defensive coordinator.
These guys have been here, know what is expected of them…. They are no pups.