WVU Cornerbacks Fighting for Starting Roles - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

WVU Cornerbacks Fighting for Starting Roles

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West Virginia's cornerback position is losing depth by the day, but that isn't deterring its coach from pushing forward with what he has at his disposal.

Brian Mitchell took over a cornerback group that was only losing Pat Miller to graduation, but had very little to hang its hat on from 2012. In fact, it had quite a big to hang its head about instead, ranking 118th nationally in pass defense.

Senior Brodrick Jenkins represented the most experience – by far – when Mitchell began coaching the group early this year, while the rest of the Mountaineers at the position are largely inexperienced. Even those who have seen significant action had never really seen success, so what was left was wide open to Mitchell's teaching in an effort to improve and to save face after an especially disappointing season.

One of those hoping to contribute to the cause was sophomore Nana Kyeremeh, a cornerback who played in all 13 games for WVU as a freshman. His 16 tackles and two pass breakups weren't much, but now they are lost as he undergoes season-ending shoulder surgery.

"It's unfortunate for Nana because he's a young man that's very upright, hardworking," Mitchell said of Kyeremeh. "The kids will just move forward. It gives someone else an opportunity to get more reps and an opportunity to be a contributor on this team."

Mitchell says the group is currently rotating six-deep with Jenkins joining Travis Bell, Ishmael Banks, Avery Williams, Daryl Worley and Brandon Napoleon. In addition to losing Kyeremeh to injury, the Mountaineers made the decision to push Ricky Rumph from corner to safety, dropping another from the ranks at that spot.

Terrell Chestnut continues to fight back from an injury that caused him to miss the entire spring, so of the six Mitchell listed, only Jenkins brings significant playing time at corner. Banks started the last four games of the season, but had previously played safety, just as Bell did.

Worley is a freshman, Napoleon redshirted and Williams sat with an injury.

Neither Kyeremeh nor Rumph had carved out a specific spot on the depth chart or role in the defense when they withdrew from consideration at corner, though, and that leaves the competition fairly similar to what it had already been.

"Everyone came with a blank slate," said Mitchell. "You talk about a blank canvas and whatever technique you use, you're going to start your picture, your painting and we started from what we did in the spring to what they did this summer. Some of those kids are very similar in their abilities and their talents and we just kind of said, hey, it's probably going to be done by committee early on, which is what we've done."

With that in mind, repititions in practice remain evenly distributed. No one, not even the seasoned Jenkins, has been guaranteed anything with the season fast approaching. What transpires over the next few weeks before the opener will determine who starts, but those positions will be no means be guaranteed.

Last season, the rotation in games was so great because no one could adequately perform the job. Now, the hope is that there will be more players who are game-ready and can be thrown to the wolves of the Big 12 offenses they'll face each week.

"When you're going through camp, you need healthy bodies and you're not trying to limit the reps for other guys or the development other guys are getting because you want to have fresh legs every time you go out there," Mitchell said. "If you can kind of continue to develop these guys, yet strain them enough that they're progressing there, why not rep six for the corner position?"

Bell provides an interesting option at the position as a defensive back who had most recently played safety before a season-ending injury opened the door for Karl Joseph to run away with his position. Now, he moves to cornerback and after standing out with a pair of interceptions (one ultimately called back for a would-be sack) in the spring game, the thought is he may be ready to take on a greater level of responsibility.

"He has all of the athletic ability, all of the tools to be a productive and a great corner, I feel, in this scheme," Mitchell said, pointing out that he is far less experienced than the other corners who got 14 extra days of practice in the spring. "He's starting to inch his way back to a comfort level that he had at safety where it was second nature to him. He's getting there."

Mitchell is comfortable with the six-player rotation at this point with a plan to travel at least five, if not six, of them in the season. The task remains ahead of him to figure out who gets the initial reps and who he can truly rely come Aug. 31.

"I feel like we've got a good mixture of them," said Mitchell. "We've got good size, we've got good speed, good quickness. We still need to continue to develop the position mastery aspect of it, but we're progressing." 

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