MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Depending on how things play out this month, four of the five backend positions in the secondary, including the nickel back, could consist of the last four-year transfers.
If Phil Steele’s predicted two-deep turns out to be correct, and Phil seems pretty wired these days, he has a transfer from Murray State Marcis Floyd located at a security location, Colorado State Transfer Rashad Ajayi and Illinois State Transfer Karl Wald at the two cornerback spots with North Dakota State Transfer Jasir Cox drawn at the West Virginia nickel location.
Then there’s the transfer of James Madison Wesley McCormick, who was also brought into the mix to compete for one of the starting cornerback jobs. Of those five guys, only Woods has seen game action for the Mountaineers this past season, so outside of the program there are clearly some concerns about the level of experience West Virginia has in its secondary school.
But are they really inexperienced?
Ajayi made 34 career starts with 76 tackles and 13 pass breakups in four seasons at Colorado State. Floyd accumulated 101 tackles, 20 pass breakups and seven interceptions in 25 career starts at Murray State. McCormick played 41 games at JMU over a three-year period before deciding to sit out his senior year to preserve his senior year of college eligibility. Cox was involved in more than 100 tackles in his last two years at North Dakota State, which won the 2021 FCS national championship. During his four-year tenure there, he was part of three national championship teams.
So, yes, they may be inexperienced when it comes to playing West Virginia’s defense, but they’re certainly no strangers to college football. And if Woods’ production over the past year is any indication of what these guys are capable of, then it is Neal Brown could have struck gold again in 2022.
One thing is for sure, they will have every opportunity to prove they can play this fall.
“They have to help. That’s why we got them,” Brown said yesterday. “It’s something we needed. Coming out of spring, it was clear we needed some experience. We like our boys. We Like (Redshirt Newbie) Andrew Wilson lamp. I thought he really showed some signs in the spring but we needed some experience in this space to match Charles.
On Monday it was McCormick who showed up and made some plays.
“(McCormick) and (Junior College Transfer Wide Receiver) Cortes Braham really went at each other and I like the way these two guys play. They both came in around the same time in May,” Brown said.
“Rashad and Wes will compete to play,” he continued. “We brought her here for two reasons. Firstly, we thought they could fight for corner positions and also help us on several special teams.”
Cox is another guy brought in to help West Virginia with Javelin position and also contribute to some of the Mountaineers’ subpackages.
“He gives us some flexibility when we go to our six-DB package,” Brown explained. “He made a really good game (Monday). He’s got the ability to leave blocks to our edge of field guy and he’s really a smart soccer player too.”
Indeed, these are smart, accomplished players who aren’t fresh out of high school.
“Look at the number of snaps these guys brought back,” Brown noted. “You look at all this pre-season stuff where people have some question marks with us and not necessarily taking into account that we’ve added over a thousand live snaps.
“James Madison, last time I checked, they play pretty good football. North Dakota State plays pretty good football. Then we got Rashad from Colorado State, that’s more than a thousand live (game) replays in the high school. So while they may not have played for us, they played football at a really high level and these three guys have to be ready to play for us and I believe they will.”
defense coordinator Jordan Lesley said it’s also important to attract veteran players from quality, championship-level FCS programs.
“Yeah, that plays a big part,” he admitted. “Experience is one thing and what you’re used to culturally is another thing and that definitely contributed to our rating of these guys. Most of your FCS folks take this step for a reason, and that’s why the majority of the time is to prove something in the twilight of their college careers. ‘Hey, I can hold my own against the competition at a higher level.'”
He continued, “These guys tend to be very, very hungry and eager to prove themselves. For some reason, maybe from high school through junior college, there were things they were told they couldn’t do. Now they have the opportunity to show that they can do it. Guys who have that mentality and mindset are a lot of fun to train with.”
West Virginia spent about two hours on the field of Steve Antoline’s family practice this morning, with the media invited to view part of the practice. The team concluded this morning with a kick competition to finish the practice.
Yesterday’s work ended in a lengthy accuracy contest.
“We’re always doing something with the specialists, and I liken it to being on the first tee for anyone who’s ever played golf,” Brown explained. “All eyes are on you and you have a tight spot where you have to hit the ball so it’s a little bit nerve wracking. To get some practice under pressure, let’s try to mimic that as best we can. Today we had the longest kick and both boys (Danny King and Parker Grothaus) did well.”
* Today’s practice was a little warmer than Monday, but the thermometer didn’t reach 80 degrees while the team was on the practice field.
* The two coordinators each spent about 20 minutes with the media after today’s training session. offensive coordinator Graham Harrell was asked how many replays he needs to see from each quarterback before he begins making decisions about who gets the majority of replays. He said when he starts to “see separation,” the time will come to make that decision.
His counterpart at Pitt, Frank Cignetti, Jr., is also evaluating several quarterbacks in the early part of fall camp, with USC transfer Kedon Slovis and holdover Nick Patti vying for the starting job.
* Defense coordinator Jordan Lesley reiterated today that he really likes coaching his group of guys. “I like the pieces we have and it’s fun coaching this group,” he said.
* An interesting physical aspect of Georgia transfer JT Daniels is that he has long arms. I’m not sure if that means anything, but Graham admitted it could help him turn the ball a little bit better on his passes. Daniels has also demonstrated the ability to make throws from a variety of arm slots.
* Among those observing the practice today was former mountaineer safety Jarrod Harper, who recently became a father for the first time. Jarrod told me he quit coaching and lives in Morgantown and works for Compass Realty. He said he’s not only selling homes in Morgantown, but also in Frostburg and Deep Creek, Maryland. Jarrod wrote four seasons for the Mountaineers from 2013 to 2016.
* According to Brown, the team will be in shells Wednesday morning and have light recovery training on Thursday.
“It’s going to be the same training structure. We’re going to get in touch little by little and then on day four it’s going to be really easy, less than an hour and we’re going to focus mainly on special teams,” he said.