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Hickman: Loss of Banks significant blow

MORGANTOWN — Let’s face it, things could have been a whole lot better on the Ishmael Banks front where West Virginia’s defense is concerned.

Of course, they could have been a whole lot worse, too, so there’s that.

When Dana Holgorsen let it be known that Banks won’t be in uniform for West Virginia’s opener against Alabama Saturday — as well as the two games that follow — it was a significant blow. Say what you will about the Mountaineers needing to find better cover cornerbacks than they’ve had the past two years, but tossing out of the mix a guy who started all 12 games a year ago probably isn’t where you want to start.

That’s exactly where West Virginia will, though.

“Icky has been reinstated to the team,’’ Holgorsen said Monday. “He was dealing with some academic issues that had to get sent to the NCAA, and the NCAA came back with the ruling that he’ll be suspended for the non-conference schedule. So for the first three games he’ll be suspended and then reinstated.

“He’ll be able to practice between now and our Oklahoma game, and then he’ll be back for the Oklahoma game and the remainder of the Big 12 schedule after that. We’re glad that he got it resolved and thank the NCAA for their ruling on that.’’

Having Banks available for the Big 12 schedule is the part that could have been worse, of course. No matter what Alabama, Towson and Maryland throw — literally — at the Mountaineers the first three weeks of the season isn’t likely to be what a majority of the Big 12 teams will throw at them. That’s not to say those first three opponents won’t throw, but it’s not likely to

come with the same regularity as, say, a Baylor or a Texas Tech or maybe even Oklahoma.

And, too, if you have to scratch a valuable piece of the defensive puzzle, isn’t it better to scratch it from the non-league schedule?

But that’s not the only thing that mitigates the loss of Banks, either. Unlike the past couple of years, when Banks is scratched, the next guy in isn’t some wide-eyed freshman. OK, so that worked out pretty well a year ago when Daryl Worley was the wide-eyed freshman being forced to play (and now established as the rock at the other corner), but it’s not something you want to depend upon going into a game with Alabama.

“We’ve got bodies at corner, bodies that have played,’’ Holgorsen said. “We just have to see how they respond.’’

Yes, this year there’s Terrell Chestnut, the most highly-acclaimed of West Virginia’s cornerback recruits over the last four years. It’s Travis Bell, who has more experience on the field than anyone at the position. It’s Ricky Rumph, who is now in his third season.

True, all have issues. Chestnut had major knee surgery a year and a half ago and whether he’s back to being the same player or not remains to be seen. Bell has constantly bounced back and forth between safety and corner and was suspended all spring. Rumph is still a raw kid who hasn’t really played a lot of football, and not just college football.

But, surprise, there’s also Jaylon Myers.

“Jaylon Myers is full go,’’ Holgorsen said. “He’s still learning because he was late to camp, but he’s full go, ready to go.’’

If Myers is able to step in with this little preparation, he would certainly be an exception to the rule. How many junior college transfers make the adjustment this quickly even with a full camp and preseason? Myers will have had barely two weeks since he was cleared academically and reported to practice.

But again, he’s another of those bodies, a guy who has at least played a little bit of post-high school ball.

Holgorsen has talked all summer long about how this team is far more experienced than any he’s had before, at least in terms of playing high-level competition. Losing Banks is one of those deals where we all find out exactly how much that depth of experience counts. Instead of plugging in unprepared freshmen, he has guys who at least know what to expect. Now it’s a matter of finding out how prepared they are to play.

“You get to a point in camp where you’re not going to get a whole lot better,’’ Holgorsen said. “You really don’t know what you have until you get them under the lights and get them in a live situation and see how they respond.’’

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As a general rule, far too much is made of depth charts. Keeping that in mind, though, it was at least interesting to see the pecking order at some places on WVU’s first such listing of the season, released Monday evening. For instance:

n The backup to Daikiel Shorts at one of the inside receiver positions is 6-foot-2, 245-pound Garrett Hope, who is the odd man out in the Cody Clay-Elijah Wellman duo at the “B’’ back position.

n The running backs are listed as such: Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood, Rushel Shell, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie. There is no “or’’ between any of the names.

n There is an “or’’ at quarterback, as in freshman William Crest or Skyler Howard as the No. 3.

n Another “or” is at defensive end, Shaquille Riddick or Noble Nwachukwu.

n Wes Tonkery is listed as the starter at sam linebacker ahead of Isaiah Bruce.

n And freshman Dravon Henry is listed ahead of Jeremy Tyler at free safety. Again, the absence of any “or.’’

Again, for what all that is worth.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or or follow him at

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