DALLAS - Sophomore cornerback Daryl Worley
admits there are times now when he watches tape of himself from last year and wonders who that person was.
He’d look at the Texas Tech tape and see the Mountaineer defense give up 573 yards, including a second-half collapse that led to a 37-27 Red Raider victory. He saw the same things against Kansas State … and Texas … and Iowa State.
But it was the Baylor game that stung the most – the way the Bears marched up and down the field without the Mountaineers putting hardly a fight at all.
“I was like, ‘Gosh, I was just not good,’” said Worley during last week’s Big 12 media day in Dallas. “I was playing horribly and felt like I was doing all the wrong things.”
Well, he certainly wasn’t alone.
West Virginia gave up 10 touchdowns and 872 yards that night in Waco – depressing numbers for sure, but doubly depressing a couple of months later when everyone saw how Central Florida from the American Athletic Conference was able to handle all that Baylor speed in the Fiesta Bowl.
There were times against Baylor when quarterback Bryce Petty had the ball in his hands and was already scanning the field as West Virginia’s defenders were either getting into position or were still looking to the sidelines for the defensive call.
It’s impossible to play winning defense that way, and that’s something new defensive coordinator Tony Gibson is adamant about changing this fall.
And it is guys like Daryl Worley
who have to step up and help make it right.
“I think it is just about being fundamentally sound and doing what you have to do – whether it’s pre-snap or during the play,” said Worley. “As long as you’re doing your job and worrying about what you have to do then you will be in position.”
Speaking of positions, Worley is one of eight regulars returning from last year’s defense, but is one of only three (corner Ishmael Banks
and safety K.J. Dillon the other two) still listed at the same spot this fall.
All of this remodeling has been done by Gibson to get the best 11 players playing the best together out on the field at the same time.
For the guys like Worley who were thrown to the wolves (or to the Bears) last year, he says he can use that experience as a way to grow as a football player.
“It did nothing but make me better,” he said. “It helped me develop mentally. It made me want to learn a lot more and helped me prepare a lot faster.”
West Virginia is vastly more experienced on the defensive side of the ball, for sure, which means the special teams will be vastly more experienced, which also means the defensive coaches will have a lot more confidence in giving them more things to absorb this year.
For starters, the corners are now once again backpedaling instead of shuffling as they were instructed to do last year because corners coach Brian Mitchell didn’t like the way his guys backpedaled.
“We’re definitely past that now,” said Worley. “It was so much teaching last year and there were so many things thrown at us … I guess it overcame us sometimes.”
Now, if the defensive coaches opt to play a true freshman this year like they did last season with Worley, it will not be out of necessity. Young, talented, rookie defenders like Dravon Henry
will be on the field because they can make the defense better.
“I talked to Dravon when he first got in and we started doing extra field work and things like that,” said Worley. “It’s been like a team thing between me, Karl and K.J. We’ve been trying our best to get him ready to play – just telling him that he needs to have a good camp and be prepared for anything. He needs to study more than anything – he doesn’t necessarily have to be out on the field, just being in the film room and reviewing what you have to do.”
So, is Henry ready to step in and help West Virginia’s defense this fall?
Worley thinks he is.
“If anything, I would say he is ahead of where I was last year, just because he was here for 7-on-7s,” Worley said. “He’s covering so much ground right now and even if a corner is getting beat he’s right over top of us (providing help). He’s a guy we can install our trust in because he’s behind us.”
Overall, Worley believes the backend of the Mountaineer defense is going to be much better this year.
“We’ve got a lot of chemistry going on back there now,” he noted. “Now that we’ve all had a year of playing together, that experience is playing a big part with all of us having a positive spring. We’re all just trying to make it work and jell as one.”
Among the returners, Worley picks Dillon as the guy who could surprise people this fall.
“His work has been unreal,” said Worley. “He had some great plays last year, but he’s going to be phenomenal this year.”
Perhaps the biggest concern everyone has about this year’s defense is developing a consistent pass rush. Last year, the Mountaineers got to the quarterback just 16 times and only Iowa State among Big 12 teams was worse at rushing the passer.
Again, Worley sees progress being made.
“Some of the additions we’ve had to the team and some of the guys we have coming back like Christian Brown
, who didn’t play much after the second game, will help,” Worley said. “And guys who have experience under their belt like Dontrill Hyman
… we’re all working well together.”
We’ll learn more when fall camp opens Thursday evening.