While Tony Gibson is taking on his first season as West Virginia’s linebackers coach/defensive coordinator, he will be working with a few familiar faces on defense, something that he admits should make his transition easier.
Gibson served as the team’s safeties coach last year and he may not have to look any further than returning junior safety Karl Joseph to find the unit’s leader heading into this season.
Joseph was an All-Big 12 honorable mention selection last year after finishing fourth on the team with 68 tackles and finishing first in the conference and second in the country with four fumble recoveries.
Gibson was on hand at Gazette sports editor Mitch Vingle’s weekly show at Bobby’s Bar and Grill in Cross Lanes on Thursday and he admitted that having Joseph and several other key cogs from last year’s defense back has made his job much easier thus far.
“That’s an easy transition,” Gibson said. “When I was able to have my hands on that part of it a year ago, I think that helped me walk away from it. I knew what they were about, and then with [cornerbacks coach] Brian [Mitchell], him and I were on the same page a year ago. It’s really good, it has been an easy transition with me going down and working with the [line]backers. I don’t know if you can coordinate from any other spot, it’s hard to do.”
It has proven tough for anyone to coordinate West Virginia’s defense over the past few years as the team continues its transition from the Big East into the offensive-minded Big 12.
Two years ago under coordinator Joe DeForest, the Mountaineers put up arguably the worst defensive campaign in program history, allowing 38.1 points and 473.6 yards per game.
Last year the team showed flashes of significant improvement, with a 16-7 loss at Oklahoma and a 30-21 win over Oklahoma State at home standing out.
But by the end of the season the Mountaineers had still allowed 33.3 points and 455 yards per contest.
Still, while the task may be tall, Gibson said he is satisfied with where the unit is as of right now.
“I like where we’re at after spring,” Gibson said. “We had some question marks going in and I thought we really concentrated and got better in a lot of areas. We had some guys step up and have a great spring — Karl Joseph had a really good spring, [cornerback] Darryl Worley, [senior linebacker] Brandon Golson — then we also had some young guys that stepped into some roles with [sophomore] Darrien Howard at nose guard, [sophomore defensive lineman] Christian Brown back off of an injury had a productive spring, and [junior safety] K.J. Dillon is another guy that stood out.
“Obviously we’re nowhere near game time right now. That’s what this summer is for and fall camp, but everybody is excited. I think our kids are hungry. I think they’re a little bit embarrassed with the season we had a year ago and they’re working.”
As if it’s not enough to try and prepare for a season-long struggle against Big 12 offenses, Gibson will have no time to get his feet wet with a season-opening date against a national power looming.
Not only is Alabama arguably the most elite program in the country with three national championships over the past five seasons, but the Crimson Tide also presents an entirely different challenge offensively.
While life in the Big 12 usually revolves around running and stopping spread offenses, Alabama is more at home lining up in big sets, running the ball, and sprinkling in some play-action passes.
“They do what they do,” Gibson said. “They’re not going to line up and try to trick you. They’re going to line up, heavy sets, fullbacks and tight ends and try and run it right down our throat. If that doesn’t work they have the ability to spread you out and put [running back T.J.] Yeldon back there and run right behind that offensive line and good luck.
“We just have to make sure that all summer long we’re going to study them, our kids are going to know exactly what they’re going to do, how they’re going to do it, why they’re going to do it and then we’ve got to get out and execute.”
While the Crimson Tide will present quite the formidable challenge, Alabama will be dealing with personnel losses of its own, most notably quarterback A.J. McCarron, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Gibson, for one, likes the idea of trying to tee off on the Tide’s rookie signal caller, whomever that ends up being.
“For about four or five years they’ve been on a roll but if we’re ever going to play them, right now is the time,” Gibson said. “I’d rather open with them than play them in week three or four.”
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, email@example.com, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.