WVU cornerback Brodrick Jenkins picks off a pass intended for Oklahoma's Kenny Stills during last season's game.
MORGANTOWN - The way Brodrick Jenkins sees it, setbacks are a part of life, not to mention football.To say that he and the rest of West Virginia's cornerbacks suffered through a few setbacks last season would be, well, a colossal understatement.Torched for more passing yards than any defense in school history, those corners are right in the crosshairs now when looking for solutions to defensive issues that went way beyond just the back end. But sometimes it takes a few failures - or a lot of them, in this case - to finally get on the right track."Success isn't a straight line. It's a zig-zag,'' Jenkins said. "We just have to get going back in the right direction.''In an effort to do so, West Virginia has changed almost everything about how it plays on the back end. The scheme is new with defensive coordinator Keith Patterson tweaking things in some major ways. The coaching is new with Brian Mitchell in charge of the corners.And, to an extent, the players are new. There exists the possibility that when West Virginia opens the season Aug. 31 against William & Mary, the only player with significant playing experience will be Jenkins, the fifth-year senior whose career has been a bit of a roller coaster - periods when he started games and others when he didn't even play.There are others who have gotten spot starts in the secondary like Ishmael Banks and Terrell Chestnut. But Chestnut is still recovering from knee surgery and isn't likely to return until midseason, if then. And two of the most promising young corners from last season are now elsewhere - Nana Kyeremeh on the injured list for the season and Ricky Rumph moved to safety.Which means guys like converted safety Travis Bell, true freshman Daryl Worley, redshirt freshman Brandon Napoleon and back-from-injury sophomore Avery Williams could play big roles this season.
And that's what Mitchell is trying to sort out this month - which ones are capable of doing so."I'm projecting right now,'' Mitchell said. "There are some guys that haven't played at this level.''His for-instance list is headlined by three of those just mentioned."Take Daryl Worley. You can see all the physical tools. You can see the mental component where he gets it,'' Mitchell said. "Take Travis Bell, who was a safety. Being back there you have to have a command of the whole defense, so he sees the big picture. And he's a big, physical guy who is maybe suited for some of the matchups in this conference. Take Avery Williams, who has tremendous speed and quickness and he's very sharp in pattern recognition."Each one of them brings something new to the table, and I'm just trying to make sure that when we're talking about position mastery, we're not just talking about on the field. We're talking about off the field. We're talking about keeping everything in perfect alignment so we don't have distractions that are going to take away from what we need to get done, football wise.''
During the first 10 days of West Virginia's fall camp, Mitchell has done a lot of experimenting. In fact, on the first day of camp, the first time the No. 1 defense trotted onto the field Bell was one of the corners, along with Jenkins. A few days later Worley, who wasn't even on campus until this summer, was with the ones. Almost everyone, it seems has gotten his shot.Part of that might have something to do with performance, but for Mitchell it's more about seeing how players react.
"It's the master plan,'' Mitchell said. "How can I strain these individuals, not just from a physical standpoint, but from a mental standpoint? If you're with the ones and all of a sudden your production goes down and you get bumped back down to the twos or the threes, how are you going to respond? That's part of the plan. And any time I can create those kinds of scenarios, it's going to make us a stronger unit.''There's also the question of how those players are going to respond to what happened last year. True, some of them weren't involved or, in the case of Worley, even on the roster. But they have to hear almost every day how bad the defense was, the back end of it in particular.But they don't hear it from Mitchell. Like the rest of the coaches, he's determined not to talk about 2012."If you have any pride about yourself, you'll want to right the ship. You'll know,'' Mitchell said. "If you don't wake up every morning and self-evaluate, then you're not the right guy. There has to be some humility in this sport, and part of that humility is a growing process. And the growing process is to learn from your past mistakes and not make those mistakes in the future.''That attitude has been passed down, too."If it doesn't motivate you,'' Jenkins said, "then you aren't in the right mode of thinking.''
It helps, too, that the scheme and the coaches have changed."The way we're being taught now is a whole different way and a better way to make us comfortable,'' Jenkins said. "Last year, we were over-thinking things too much and we really had to rely on ourselves to get things done. With coach Mitchell and the new scheme, it helps us just go out and be the player that we can be.''So, in the grand scheme of things has Mitchell made any progress?"You ever chop wood?'' Mitchell asked. "You just have to keep chopping and one day you have a wood pile.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1