MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – By no means is West Virginia set at its two cornerback positions, but defensive backfield coach David Lockwood believes his group is making progress.
“We’re coming,” he said after Wednesday’s practice. “We’ve got Keith (Tandy), who we think is pretty good. He’s got to leave practice (on Wednesdays for class) and what that does is it gives some of those other guys an opportunity to get some work when he’s not there.”
One of those other guys getting work is January enrollee Avery Williams, who signed last February but delayed coming to WVU until three months ago. Williams played on both sides of the ball at Calvin Coolidge High in Washington, D.C., and is a guy who has caught Lockwood’s eye halfway through spring drills.
“One thing you can say about that young man is I love his attitude,” said Lockwood. “He will compete and he’s going to get better because he puts himself into a position to get better.”
Lockwood mentioned one particular instance when the ball was on the other hash and the receiver lined up to the field side near the numbers, but Williams still confidently went up and pressed him.
“I liked that,” said Lockwood. “Now we’ve got to be smart, but I don’t think many QBs at this level can consistently throw that deep out cut from the far hash to the sideline consistently, and I like his mentality.”
Yet like all young players, Williams still has plenty of fundamental work to do before he’s fully ready to take the field - namely eliminating those quick peeks into the backfield when he should be watching his man, which many young players are guilty of doing.
“Avery Williams that’s his biggest nemesis – he eyes everything in the backfield, but he’s just a freshman,” said Lockwood.
At 5-10, Williams is a little taller than some of the corners West Virginia have had in the past. In fact, most of West Virginia’s corners this year are in the 5-10, 5-11, 6-foot range as opposed to the 5-8, 5-9 range in prior years. Lockwood said recruiting taller corners is something the defensive staff has been able to do successfully the last couple of years.
“You’re trying to get the best guy and sometimes some of the best ones are a little shorter, but you just don’t want to be looking two, three, or four years down the road having a bunch of guys that are 5-9, 5-8,” he explained. “Just look at the matchups. Your Bradley Starks and Ivans (McCartney) - those guys are a little taller and when you are that size you are at a disadvantage for some of the jump balls. We try to get a guy that’s 5-10; a 6-foot guy who can flip his hips and run. But the problem with that is everybody in the country is recruiting them, too.”
Lockwood believes he has four proven guys to work with for the two corner spots, with the possibility of a couple more developing before fall camp begins. That’s a luxury he didn’t have a few years ago when he arrived in 2008.
“Keith has played a bunch. Pat Miller has played some. Brodrick (Jenkins) has played some as has Brantwon (Bowser). You’ve got four guys that have played and you’ve got some younger guys that haven’t played, but as a group they work and they will compete.”
Lockwood is not against playing a younger guy if he’s good enough to play. Actually, Lockwood did that in the Meineke Car Care Bowl a few years ago with Tandy.
“If he can play he’s going to play,” Lockwood said. “Now we’ve got to try and put those young guys into situations where they hopefully are going to have some success as opposed to … you aren’t going to put him out there on an island all the time.
“I’m not saying we’re not going to do it, but you’ve got to be smart. Today, Avery got beat down on goal line a couple of times inside but that’s what it’s going to take for him to get better. Me telling him … that’s a little different, but him getting beat like he got beat, in the long run it’s going to make him better.”
The speed and pace of Dana Holgorsen’s offense hasn’t been much of an issue for the corners because they don’t huddle, but it does make them have to be alert and pay closer attention to signals coming in from the sideline.
“It forces our guys to get lined up and it forces our guys to get over to the sideline and get the call right now, so you’ve got to stay focused and you’ve got to be disciplined just about the whole time,” Lockwood said. “Sometimes in the past when you go against an offense that doesn’t have a quick tempo you’ve got a little time to relax and gather your thoughts where sometimes when they go, it’s consistently play after play after play.”
With roughly two weeks of spring work remaining, Lockwood wants to continue to see his guys compete out on the field and play with confidence.
“We’re all seeing the deal for the first time,” he said. “They’re getting their coaching off the film now more for the first time because you’re not sure what you’re going to get, but the guys are continuing to get better and not making the same mistakes. If it’s one thing, let’s get better the next day in practice so at the end we are getting better at something. I think when you try and do everything you get a little bit of nothing.”
One thing the defense hasn’t been able to do much of is open field tackling. Lockwood said the corners will have to take advantage of those limited opportunities during scrimmages and when the team is permitted to practice in full pads.
“We’re not going to be very good at it because we haven’t done it much,” he admitted. “When we get in full pads we’ve got to do a better job of thudding up and getting ourselves in position to make the plays when we go live in these scrimmage situations.
“Obviously everyday we’re not going in full pads, but those days when we go full pads we’ve got to capitalize and do it,” he added. “The days we don’t have full pads obviously you don’t. That’s when you have more two-hand touch and getting yourself into position. In full pads we’ve got to get ourselves into position and thud it up. You’re going to have some collisions and guys are going to go down, that’s the nature of it, but be smart: don’t take a cheap shot and don’t sling a guy on the ground.”
As for Saturday’s scrimmage (West Virginia’s first this spring) Lockwood wants to see which guys will compete and perform.
“We’re looking for guys that can make plays and be where they’re supposed to be,” he said. “I understand they’re going to make mistakes, but the important thing is competing and executing their assignments and their techniques.”Following John Antonik on Twitter: @JohnAntonik