MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – K.J. Dillon declines to say what happened on a trip back to home in Florida that left him with a sprained ankle, but the junior safety also stops short of saying it did anything more than keep him out of practice until this week.
West Virginia started preseason practice July 31 and Dillon is only now cleared for full participation.
“It slowed me down for about a week or two and I was out for a little bit, but not that I’m back I can leave that in the past and keep working on getting it better,” Dillon said. “There’s a little rust, but practicing will take care of it.”
Dillon’s spot in practice went to Dayron Wilson, a junior college transfer who sat out last season and went on scholarship earlier this month, and Pitt transfer Cullen Christian. There’s little doubt Dillon, who made 28 tackles in nine games last year, is the right fit for the Spur position.
“K.J. Dillon is the key to the defense. I mean, he’s special,” said defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, who coaches the linebackers now and had safeties last season. “Losing him last year caused us more issues than any other injury we had. We could play man with him. We could blitz with him. He’s big enough to play the run and long enough to cover the pass. Losing that guy killed us. He’s the key to what we want to do right now. It’s a perfect position for him.”
Dillon was first injured against Oklahoma in the second week and missed the following game against Georgia State. The more serious incident was when Dillon, a diabetic, was hospitalized for severe dehydration after the loss to Texas. His body shut down and Dillon missed the final two games of the season. The lineups on defense were a mess without Dillon plus all the other players who were lost to season-ending injuries by that point of the season.
Dillon, who was hospitalized early in the 2012 season, said he’s on a strict diet now and has a cap on the carbohydrates he consumes every day so that he can control his blood sugar.
“It’s not a dramatic change,” he said. “When you look at it, do you want to play or do you want to sit? Do you want to live or do you want to die? You’ve just got to take care of yourself and do what you’ve got to do.”
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A BIG part of Dillon’s value is that he can stay on the field on third down, which helps that particular package feature one of the defense’s best overall players instead of coming off the field for someone who wasn’t quite good enough to start.
The Mountaineers will still make substitutions on third down and incorporate even more players who they either haven’t had yet or are still getting to know.
Gibson said Will linebacker Brandon Golson, who is still restricted to limited participation after offseason shoulder surgery, Sam linebacker Edward Muldrow, a junior college transfer who was with the Mountaineers in the spring, and defensive end Shaq Riddick, a postgraduate transfer who was All-America in 2013 at Gardner-Webb, should be part of that personnel grouping.
“Those are three guys we feel are going to be good matchups for us to be able to get after the quarterback,” Gibson said. “Those guys all have a special knack. Muldrow can run off the edge and be physical. Same thing with Golson. He’s very gifted athletically and understands how to get to the quarterback. Riddick, same goes for him. I like those three guys. If we don’t have those three in there, something’s wrong.”
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THE 6-foot-6, 240-pound Riddick has established himself quickly. He didn’t graduate from Gardner-Webb until just before the start of camp so he wasn’t allowed to participate in WVU’s summer workouts. Though he’d been on campus and working out on his own, his first real day with the team was the first day of camp.
But the Mountaineers didn’t really know about Riddick until May.
“I got a phone call saying, ‘Hey, this kid is leaving and he’s a 6-6 defensive end,’ ” Gibson remembered. “I got the film sent to me and watched it on my cell phone. I was in Florida recruiting and I watched about eight to 10 plays and said, ‘We need to get this guy,’ and we went to work on it.”
Gibson said the early part of Riddick’s highlight tape was a series of plays from the loss to Marshall. Riddick had seven tackles, two sacks and three tackles for a loss. He ended up with 81/2 sacks and hasn’t shown anything different with the Mountaineers.
“He’s special as far as that’s concerned,” Gibson said. “Is he going to be a guy who beats double teams and comes through the gap to stop the run every snap? No, but we understand his limitations with that.”
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.