WVU Defense Builds Depth Through Injury - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

WVU Defense Builds Depth Through Injury

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WVU senior linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton celebrates a sack against Delaware State. (PHOTO: Scott Lituchy) WVU senior linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton celebrates a sack against Delaware State. (PHOTO: Scott Lituchy)
LAWRENCE, Kan. -

Dylan Tonkery has no intention of giving up his starting position, but then, he may not be asked to do so.

The redshirt freshman linebacker slid into his role on the weak side when incumbent starter David Long suffered an offseason injury that would keep him on the shelf for the first third of the schedule. That third wraps up on Saturday and then defensive coordinator Tony Gibson has a major decision on his hands.

Long is widely considered to be one of the better defenders not only on West Virginia’s roster, but in the Big 12 as a whole. When healthy, he has a job waiting for him. That just doesn’t necessarily mean that Tonkery is the odd man out in the odd stack defense.

“Them other linebackers better start playing better,” Gibson said of his message as Long prepares to return. “Tonkery’s probably playing as well as anybody on our defense, other than Kyzir. I would think if you take every snap of the last two games, Dylan Tonkery is right now – as far as production, performance, grade-wise – he’s the second-best guy we’ve got right now on paper.”

Does Long step in at Will and move Tonkery to Xavier Preston’s position at Sam? Or is some of this talk meant as motivation more than a threat of being replaced?

The answer could come as soon as Saturday, with Long scheduled to practice this week and make the trip to Lawrence for a game against Kansas.

“Everybody understood that we would have to band together to make sure we kept our goals in reach and do the things we want to do as a defense,” senior middle linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton said. “Dylan has done a great job. The moment was never too big for him. He’s ready to go as a young guy. Xavier knew me and him had to do more in our senior year and step up. I can’t wait until we get David back. I don’t know when it’ll be, but I know he will be ready.”

If Long isn’t 100 percent for Lawrence, the right move is likely to give him another week on the shelf, plus next week’s bye, to get back to his old self in time for an Oct. 7 meeting with TCU.

  • Tonkery isn’t the only young player on the defense who has been thrown into action ahead of conference play. Kenny Robinson, a 6-foot-2, 202-pound safety, just got his first career start – and it was as a cornerback.

           The Wilkinsburg, Pa. native looks to have the best size of any corner the Mountaineers have put on the field through three games and if he continues                on this path, he likely isn’t finding his way back behind Dravon Askew-Henry or any other safety on the roster any time soon.

  • He did well,” WVU cornerbacks coach Doug Belk said of Robinson. “He is a competitor, long, athletic guy. He has to continue to work on his fundamentals and some of the detail things that are different at corner than safety, out on the island. He is ready for the challenge. This will be a good test for him.”

           Kansas is slinging it around this year under new offensive coordinator Doug Meachum. So far, quarterback Peyton Bender has the most pass attempts              and the most completions of any quarterback in the Big 12, but he still finds himself in the middle of the pack as far as yards per game and his                            touchdown to interception ratio (6 TD, 5 INT) hasn’t made the attack too effective just yet.

           Robinson and the rest of the cornerbacks who have been shuffled through the rotation up to this week will have plenty of opportunities to show what                  they can do against an offense built to test them.

  • Toyous Avery is another starting defender who will accompany the Mountaineers to Lawrence without yet knowing whether or not he will be called on to play. The junior bandit safety was absent from Saturday’s win over Delaware State, which opened the position for a couple of other candidates. The starting job went to Marvin Gross, despite the fact that Gross has been working as a spur safety behind Kyzir White. Gross, a fifth year senior, is no stranger to just about any position on the field, having come to WVU as a high school defensive lineman and initially joined the Mountaineer rotation at the “buck” linebacker spot. On Saturday, he said the main change was that he found himself playing in the post more than he would have if he had taken over for White at spur.  

           “It was fun. I got to learn a new position,” Gross said. “I’ve been here forever, so I know the position and it was just easy to transition over there.”

           Aside from Gross, South Charleston’s Derrek Pitts got a good look at the bandit position in his first extended action outside of special teams. The true                freshman impressed his position coach, Matt Caponi, all throughout the spring session, but Caponi felt he took a step back in the early going of fall                    camp. He appears to have gotten back on the staff’s good side and could provide key depth at bandit when Gross moves back to spur to make room for            a healthy Avery.

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