Intense and Alert
By Steve Stone for MSNsportsNET.com
August 12, 2009
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Through West Virginia’s first four days of fall camp, redshirt sophomore cornerback Keith Tandy has been impressed by the alertness and intensity of the secondary.
More importantly, Tandy exudes plenty of confidence in the quality of this year’s corners. The fast, athletic group of ball-hawkers has a chance to expand the depth chart much more than what was shown last season.
“Last year we basically played two corners at a time and rotated them in and out,” Tandy said. “Now we can try to get like three or four of them out there and have our best athletes on the field.
“Last year it looked like I wouldn’t have the chance to play until the next year. Now that camp has started, if we keep getting better we can play like four or five corners this year.”
With the evolution of both the no-huddle and spread offenses, Division I football teams across the country are doing what they can to wear out opposing secondaries. Tandy believes that having a good number of capable corners allows for a healthy rotation that keeps them fresh for making plays.
“That’s big because now the offenses run more no-huddle and switch receivers in and out, and now you can try to switch your corners when they switch their receivers,” Tandy said of many team’s chess game strategy.
Part of what makes the Hopkinsville, Ky., resident feel more comfortable is the experience cornerbacks coach David Lockwood brings to the table. The second-year WVU assistant has 20 years of coaching experience, including stops at Notre Dame, Minnesota and Kentucky.
But like every coach that moves onto a new job, Lockwood used his first season as a “feeling out” process to assess the strengths and weaknesses of his players. Now that he has spent a year under Lockwood, Tandy believes he and the rest of the cornerbacks are already making great strides in year two.
“It helps out a lot,” Tandy said of progressing with Lockwood in his second year. “When he first got here he was new, he didn’t really know us and we didn’t know him. He knows more of what each individual does good and what they do badly now.”
Now that he has a grasp for each player’s tendencies, aside from the freshmen, Lockwood can spend more time teaching defensive schemes to his veteran players instead of going through the fundamentals.
“This time in summer at 7-on-7s we continued what we did from spring ball. He doesn’t have to teach us the basics now, we work on more important things now,” Tandy added.
Lockwood has been very impressed with the concentration and effort of his players, feeling that they’ve put in plenty of hard work in practice while paying attention to detail on the different schemes he has been teaching. He expects his group’s development to pay big dividends by the start of the season.
“Last year our numbers were down and this year some guys that haven’t stepped up in the past are stepping up now,” Lockwood said. “It’s a tribute to guys being here in the offseason and working out in the summer.
“It’s a tribute to the type of kids they are. They came out this summer and learned. They paid the price. Now they’re putting it altogether and getting ready for the opener on Sept. 5.”
For a player with raw ability such as Tandy, the room to grow and develop as a corner looms large. He witnessed firsthand the development of now Buffalo Bills player Ellis Lankster, who finished his senior year tied for the team lead with seven breakups as well as three interceptions in his only season under Lockwood.
The former Christian County High quarterback saw action on more than 75 plays last season, including 55 in his only start against North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. His familiarity with understanding coverages and reading offensive sets in real time gives him the opportunity to become a team leader amongst the other corners.
“I just always try to pay attention to detail and focus on detail,” Tandy said. “I lead not by talking much but more by example. I’m playing a lot more than I did in the past, so people look up to you.”
Although it was a thrill for him to go up against one of the nation’s elite wideouts in Hakeem Nicks, who was drafted by the New York Giants in the first round of the NFL Draft, Tandy admits it was a hard lesson to learn.
“I was pretty gassed at first,” Tandy admitted. “After that first half it slowed down so I was alright. After you get beat for a couple touchdowns, it’s like, ‘So what, I’ll still live to play another down.’ Everything slows down from there.”
From the beginning of the spring, Tandy has been penciled in as WVU’s starting right cornerback. However, the purpose of fall camp is not just about how the expected starters are jelling as a unit, but how others along the depth chart progress as well.
Tandy carries the mindset that nothing is guaranteed, knowing that there is a fight for every position. Along with the cornerback tussle is the encouragement of each competitor, who knows that each player can achieve much individually, but will not see a January bowl game if they don’t work collectively.
“It’s a competition, but it’s a friendly competition,” Tandy said of his position players. “We are on the field competing, but if someone makes a play we jump on the field and pat them on the back. We go to the same places and work out together and hang out together.”
Tandy and the rest of the cornerbacks know that they cannot just confine to themselves, but must also work hand in hand with the safeties. Whether it’s communicating on who is going to jump a receiver’s route or who helps out on a deep ball, Tandy understands the importance of working with the safeties and building an established trust between the two groups.
“That’s one thing we did over the summer is 7-on-7s with the safeties,” Tandy said. “Most of the time during the seasons the corners are by themselves and the safeties are by themselves so we don’t get to work with them too much, but the summer helped out a lot.”
With all the work Tandy and the rest of the secondary have put in leading up to the season, WVU’s passing defense has a chance to climb once again. If the unit continues to jell together and make plays, the results could be nightmarish for opposing offenses.
“There were some good things and there were lots of mistakes,” said Stewart.
“A surprise would be the explosiveness and talent of some of our young guys,” Stewart said, specifically citing running back, slot receiver and quarterback on offense, and cornerback and safety on defense.
An area Stewart would like to see improvement is the overall play of his backups.
“We want our twos to press the starters a little more,” he said. “There needs to be more quality play from our second groups overall.”
The team will have its first two-a-day practice of camp on Thursday.
- John Antonik
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