Mitchell Repairing WVU’s Secondary

  • By John Antonik
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  • April 03, 2013 11:21 AM
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The reconstruction of West Virginia’s secondary began last January with the hiring of cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell.

Mountaineer DBs gave up an alarming 38 touchdown passes in 2012, including 10 out of 13 games of surrendering at least two TD tosses and four games of giving up 400 yards or more through the air. That’s clearly not going to cut it so Mitchell, most recently East Carolina’s defensive coordinator, was brought in to fix things.

“I know what it takes to develop corners and the No. 1 thing for corner play is you need a group of fearless players out there because you’re going to get beat,” he said recently. “Everyone in the stands is going to know it. Everyone watching on national TV is going to know it, so what are you going to do that next play? You can go out there and hang your head. No. You’ve got to get back on the horse and compete and make the play the next time.”

The man speaks from experience. Mitchell played college football at BYU and later spent some time in the NFL in Atlanta playing in a Falcons secondary that included hall of famer Deion Sanders. For some reason, college players always seem to perk up a little bit more whenever they hear the letters N-F-L.

“Everyone has got to have a little swag about them and those kids understand that,” explained Mitchell. “When you say, ‘When I did this against Jerry Rice’ or ‘I did this against Tim Brown’ they listen just a bit closer. One thing about what I’ve done, I’ve been able to tell those guys I’ve been your age but you’ve never been my age. Have big eyes and have big ears, and just listen.”

From what Mitchell has seen so far from the corners available to him this spring he’s says he may have to do things by committee, at least initially.

“Until we can get guys that can understand position mastery no one guy is stepping two steps in front of the group,” Mitchell said. “Right now in my mind it’s by committee – having guys that are fresh on the football field or guys that fit certain packages.”

The goal so far this spring has been to build them from the ground up, starting out with such simple things as getting into the correct stance and advancing from there.

“Right now we’re working toward simple success,” he noted. “One day it may just be stance and start. The next day it may be effort. The next day it may be let’s master a bang technique in a cover two. Overall, my goal coming into spring, and hopefully by the end of spring, is to have a confident group of individuals.”

Just who those guys end up being is anyone’s guess? West Virginia is still turning over its roster from the players recruited to play in Jeff Casteel’s 3-3 stack scheme that faced a Big East schedule to the multiple, attacking 3-4 system Keith Patterson wants to use in the Big 12. Mitchell says it’s a work in process.

“It starts with your recruiting classes and I think this last recruiting class that we brought in you’re seeing some talented individuals - you’re seeing some height, you’re seeing some speed and you’re seeing some guys from the south that are playmakers,” he said. “You look at Daryl Worley from Philadelphia. He’s a 6-2 guy that can play corner or safety. You look at Jeremy Tyler down in Atlanta. He can play corner or safety, but he’s 6-1, 6-2. You look at d’Vante Henry and some of those guys, they are 6-3, 6-5, 6-6 and we’re starting to get those guys who look like Big 12 players.”

It’s critical that West Virginia add more size and length to its defense, particularly in the back end to match up with the super-skilled offensive players the Big 12 has.

“You talk about the match ups you are defending in the Big 12 and you’re talking about defending 6-2, 6-3 wide receivers and 6-5 tight ends and so on and so forth,” Mitchell said. “Well, in the Big East you weren’t defending that type of kid and now you’ve got to recruit to this scheme and this scheme requires a certain kid. You want long, rangy, athletic guys who can stand up on two legs and you want eight of those guys on the football field. Therefore, you’ve got to recruit those guys.”

As for the defense Patterson is running, Mitchell absolutely loves it.

“The one thing you do is you put your kids in situations where they can win,” Mitchell explained. “You don’t try and run a scheme that they’re not able to handle and be successful. I think we have a great understanding and that’s why I love the simplicity of what we’re doing in the 3-4, but also the unpredictability, the multiple fronts, the multiple coverages and the simplicity goes into that. When you marry that with great effort then good things will happen.”

For his part, Mitchell has plenty of experience coaching in schemes similar to what Patterson is running, from his days at Texas Tech to BYU to most recently at East Carolina.

“Our philosophies are very similar as far as great effort and being simple but multiple in what we’re doing up front and in the back end,” said Mitchell. “We were a 3-4 team at East Carolina and 80 percent of what we do here is what we did at East Carolina. It’s that 20 percent that I wish I had at East Carolina that would have made us even better.”

Making West Virginia’s DBs better is obviously Mitchell’s No. 1 goal and he’s got a track record of turning things around pretty quickly. One year at Texas Tech he had two 4.7 kids and a bunch of freshmen in the secondary and the Red Raiders finished the season ranked second in the Big 12 in pass defense. A year after that, Texas Tech had one of the best pass defenses in the nation.

“It’s just a challenge and that’s why they put coach by my name and we’ll find the techniques and the things we need to put those guys in a win-win situation,” Mitchell concluded.