MORGANTOWN - The way K.J. Dillon figures it, little that can happen on Saturday afternoons this season will test him the way he's already being tested in practice.Well, at least not from a physical standpoint.Dillon is West Virginia's 6-foot-2, 195-pound true freshman safety from Apopka, Fla. Despite not arriving until this summer and in part because of an injury to Darwin Cook, he's spent most of this week running with the Mountaineers' No. 1 defense.Intimidating for a freshman? Sure. But could there be any better preparation?
"There's no more Tavon Austins out there in the world, no more Stedman Baileys, no more Geno [Smith] picking you off,'' Dillon said, referring to his daily ritual of having to defend WVU's highly acclaimed passing trio. "I'm going against the best every day. I'm playing with the big boys now, the big dogs, every day.''It looks like Dillon won't be finished when camp ends, either. From defending West Virginia's offense he'll likely switch to defending those in the Big 12. He's been that impressive so far in camp.A daunting assignment for a freshman? Yes, but it's one Dillon readily accepts."I'm more excited than scared because I always dreamed of playing against the big guys like Oklahoma and Texas and all those teams,'' Dillon said. "Nervous? Yes, but I'm still more excited than scared.''There are actually two true freshmen who could either start or see significant time at safety right away. The other is Karl Joseph, who arrived as an early enrollee in January, went through spring drills and sat atop the depth chart when fall camp began.West Virginia assistant coach Steve Dunlap doesn't coach the safeties anymore - he's working with the outside linebackers and the special teams - but he might be the best one to put the abilities of Dillon and Joseph into a Mountaineer context.
"He's got a great combination of size and speed,'' Dunlap said of Dillon. "He's a lot like Robert Sands was. It's just a matter of how much can he take and how soon can he absorb it all. He's a smaller version, but yeah, both he and Karl Joseph are a lot like Robert was.''There are, of course, some steps yet to be taken by Joseph. He'd not practiced with the first team until this week, and right off the bat he was thrown into one of WVU's first up-tempo team drills.Instead of thinking about what he was supposed to be doing with the second defense, he was being asked to react almost without thinking as the first defense went against the hurry-up offense."It was the first time we'd run the high tempo in practice, but it was also the first time I'd been with the [first-team defense],'' Dillon said. "Those two mixed together, it was crazy.''Until then, though, Dillon had been adapting pretty well. The tempo thing will come with more reps.
"When I first saw the defense I was like, 'This is going to be hard to learn,' '' Dillon said. "So yeah, I'm kind of surprised that I've picked it up the way that I have so far. But at the same time I'm not surprised. They had high expectations for me.''To date, Dillon said his best moments are when he has any degree of success stopping guys like Austin. The worse moments, of course, are when he doesn't."How does a guy who just came into college cover Tavon Austin?'' Dillon asked. "It's crazy. You go out and cover him and he gives you one of those moves that you've never seen in your life, it's crazy."I've had my battles with Tavon a few times. I lose most of them, but sometimes I win.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.