MORGANTOWN -For the first time in more than a decade, the Mountaineers will return both starting safeties on defense.
Darwin Cook is back for his senior year with unfinished business. The safety has seen some inconsistency over the past two years. He had a drop in nearly every statistical category from 2011 to 2012, which includes tackles and interceptions.
The talent on the other half of the field did pick up last season when the Mountaineers got their first taste of Karl Joseph. The freshman made an immediate impact as he lead the team in tackles with 104, interceptions with two, and three forced fumbles.
As this defense allowed 45 plays that went for more than 25 yards, this teammate duo believes that time is over with.
"I think by game two, a lot of teams are going to look and see who's 25 and who's eight out there," said Cook. "I think we could be one of the best tandems in the country."
In order to become a feared one-two punch in college football, these Mountaineers must get past some of the best offenses in Division-I football.
West Virginia will play four teams next season who ranked in the top six in receiving yards during the 2012 season. All four of those teams rein from the Big 12 Conference.
Joseph believes his teammates and himself can hold it down back in the defensive zone. After a stellar season last year, he's visibly gained weight to prepare for harder-hitting sophomore campaign.
While he is progressing as a player, Cook says their relationship has also grown. Their relationship has been taken to the next level, and Cook believes it's going to make them much better players.
"We work together off the field, on the field, we hangout a lot," said Cook. "We just try to make each other better. He feels like he's the best and I feel like I'm the best so we just go at it and compete and that's what makes us better."
It's clear there is a little friendly competition on the field between the two players. When asked if the players feed off each other, Joseph immediately agreed and had a look as if he was ready to get back on the field at that very moment.
"I congratulate him, and then that motivates me to make a play," said Joseph.
It was a simple answer, but you could tell he wasn't going to let Cook overshadow his own efforts.
A battle may be what this defense needs the most. With a struggling secondary who gave up 312.5 passing yards per contest last season, some confidence is needed to succeed.
Cook has moved on from his struggles, and is ready to return to the form he had two years ago. While he has his own style of play, he believes both him and Joseph have a similar playing style.
"We're both big hitters and we both have good feet," says Cook. "We both play off each other, and that's a big thing that we can benefit from."
The first step to a successful tandem will come this Saturday during the Blue-Gold game at Milan Puskar Stadium. While the hitting may not be mid-season form, these two will look to have a chemistry that shines in the defense.