MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Sometimes this coaching football thing isn't as complex as it seems.Take the case of West Virginia and Vernon Davis, for example.Davis was a cornerback who was recruited by West Virginia and Miami, among others. He decided on Miami and enrolled there as a freshman last summer.A week or so into his career with the Hurricanes, however, he apparently had a change of heart. He withdrew from Miami and enrolled at West Virginia.
So much for the complexities of recruiting. Sometimes players just fall into your lap.But it was after Davis spent the fall sitting out - because he'd enrolled at Miami he had to sit out a year, so he just burned his redshirt and practiced with the Mountaineers - that the really elementary coaching decision was made in his regard. It came last week as WVU was going through spring drills.Davis had arrived here as a cornerback and there was never really much thought that he might do anything else, at least full time. Yes, he was given a chance to field punts this spring, but given the state of West Virginia's secondary last season, handing over to someone else a potential contributor at cornerback didn't seem likely.
But then Dana Holgorsen stood and watched Davis fielding those punts early in last Tuesday's practice."We were watching him catch punts. I was watching Vernon catch and run, and he was running forward at a faster rate than he was running backwards,'' Holgorsen said. "He was sticking his toe in the ground and he was fluid.''Cornerbacks, of course, are expected to be able to run backward at a fairly rapid clip. Receivers are just the opposite. They're supposed to run forward.Bingo. Light bulb clicks on. So when the special-teams period ends and everyone goes to position drills, Holgorsen calls Davis over.
"Go line up and catch some passes with those guys,'' he might have said.So on Tuesday, there was Davis, sticking out like a sore thumb in his blue No. 3 defensive jersey in a line of pass-catchers all wearing white.By Thursday's practice, Davis was fitting right in, not only athletically but sartorially. He, too, was wearing white."It looked good enough to us on Tuesday that we kept him on offense,'' Holgorsen said. "We'll keep evaluating whether that's a full-time position move. But he did look better moving forward than backwards.''
No matter where Davis ends up, he will have a chance to contribute. Yes, there's a need for much better cornerback play than last season, when West Virginia had pretty much the worst pass defense in all of college football. But the Mountaineers also have a need for receivers, what with the top three from last season all gone, including two of the best who ever played at the school, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.And apparently it's not as if Davis was wowing anyone at cornerback. The 5-foot-10, 176-pounder from Miami was bunched in a rather large group of candidates for playing time there, many of whom had the advantage of experienced gained last season while Davis was with the scout team. Holgorsen said Davis was probably well down on the depth chart when the switch was made.Besides, Holgorsen isn't convinced that those cornerbacks can't become good players."We need guys at corner to step up and be players. We can't get rid of the people we had and bring in six new players. This isn't the NFL,'' Holgorsen said. "We played young corners that are going to get better, that we expect to get better."Vernon was somewhere around a third- or fourth-team corner at the time, so we decided to try him at receiver to see if he could crack the depth chart or be a starter. It's probably in the best interest of our football team to have a first-team receiver than a third- or fourth-team cornerback.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.