MORGANTOWN — The opening few days or even weeks of a college football preseason camp can be deceptive, especially where freshmen are concerned.
Because they’re usually brand new, coaches tend to give them more opportunities if they think they have the potential to play right away. Sometimes it pans out, sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s better to find out right away and then not waste any more time if the latter is true. And more often than not, it is.
Dravon Henry is getting his chances early in West Virginia’s camp, and he might be the exception rather than the rule.
“Some guys are just different as freshmen. A lot of them have talent, but sometimes they won’t jump in and ask questions because they’re afraid you’ll think they don’t know anything,’’ safeties coach Joe DeForest said. “Dravon’s not like that. He’s learning everything he can and he’s working hard.
“I coached Karl Joseph as a freshman and he was the same way.’’
Joseph, of course, started all 13 of West Virginia’s games in 2012 as a true freshman, led the team in tackles and was the Mountaineers’ defensive player of the year.
It would be a leap to expect the same from Henry, but it would seem he has a chance to be on the field in that same free safety spot when West Virginia opens the season Aug. 30 against Alabama in Atlanta.
“He reminds me a little bit of [cornerback Daryl] Worley as a freshman,’’ DeForest said. “He has the same kind of maturity.’’
Indeed, if Henry, a four-star recruit from Aliquippa, Pa., winds up a big contributor, he would follow Joseph and Worley in that role. Joseph quickly developed into the team’s biggest hitter in the secondary as a freshman, and then Worley emerged as the team’s most dependable cover cornerback as last season progressed.
There’s just one difference between the three. Joseph and Worley emerged in part because a team that lacked any kind of depth needed bodies. They probably would have played anyway, but they got their initial chance almost by default.
“It’s just night and day compared to where it’s been in the past,’’ coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Not just last year but even the year before and the year before that we had a lot of true freshman in the two deep [out of necessity]. That’s not the case now.’’
And that’s not the case with Henry. No, there’s not an established star at free safety, but there is enough talent in the secondary that if there was a need at the position someone could be moved. West Virginia’s coaches don’t seem to be moving anyone.
When the first-team offense lined up against the first-team defense earlier this week during a rare open portion of practice, there was Henry at free safety. On the second play, Henry stepped in front of a Clint Trickett pass and intercepted it.
“He’s proving me more right every day,’’ said Worley, who maintained this summer that Henry was one to watch. “He just keeps working and asks questions when he needs to. He keeps going out there and making plays.’’
At this point in camp, the free safety battle seems to be between the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Henry and 5-11, 205-pound sophomore Jeremy Tyler. Tyler is no slouch, having earned his first start in last year’s finale against Iowa State when Darwin Cook was hurt and the secondary was shuffled. He finished with 10 tackles.
Henry, though, brings something that Tyler might not. He’s athletic enough and is good enough in coverage that he could play cornerback.
“It’s up to him and Jeremy,’’ DeForest said. “But [Henry] brings a lot to the table.’’
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.