WVU cornerback, safety jobs still up in the air

AP photo
West Virginia’s Terrell Chestnut (16) breaks up a pass intended for Oklahoma’s Jaz Reynolds last November.

MORGANTOWN — As Dana Holgorsen contemplated the question of who would be assigned to cover Alabama’s All-America wide receiver Amari Cooper Saturday, he predictably mentioned sophomore cornerback Daryl Worley.

“We don’t have many choices, right?’’ Holgorsen said.

Well, in truth, he has a lot of choices. Perhaps none of the alternatives have the same cover skills as Worley, but in terms of sheer numbers there are plenty of options. And they aren’t all cornerbacks.

Actually, it’s one of the most intriguing personnel questions for West Virginia heading into Saturday’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game with No. 2 Alabama at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta: Who winds up playing the primary coverage positions on the defense? It could very well be done by committee at those crucial spots, cornerback and free safety.

“I’ve said this many, many times. Just because somebody gets the nod to start, it’s probably more important how they play during the course of the game,’’ Holgorsen said. “The better they play, the more snaps they’re going to get.’’

Worley is pretty much assured of getting a bunch of those snaps. Beyond that, however, it gets murky.

At the other corner, Terrell Chestnut is likely to start and Travis Bell will play. One of them will likely play as the nickel back on passing downs.

The other intriguing spot is at free safety, where true freshman Dravon Henry appears to be a step ahead of sophomore Jeremy Tyler, at least according to the depth chart.

And don’t forget Ricky Rumph and Jaylon Myers. Rumph is listed as the backup to Worley. Myers is the junior college transfer who didn’t join the team until classes began Aug. 18, but has made enough of an impression that his name is in the discussion.

“He came in so late and only had a week of practice and he’s not in game shape,’’ defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said, listing Myers’ considerable liabilities. “But if he can go in there and spell a guy for 10 plays, we’ll use him.’’

If nothing else, Myers figures to see some time on special teams.

“We had Wednesday of last week to be able to gauge what he can do,’’ Holgorsen said. “You can see his athleticism, but to say he’s going to do anything other than [special teams] right now I think would be crazy. But we’ll see how he reacts.’’

Chestnut and Bell figure to get the majority of the snaps at the cornerback spot that Myers might eventually work his way into, and Holgorsen doesn’t see that as a bad thing. Yes, he’s lost fifth-year senior and last year’s starter, Ishmael Banks, suspended for the first three games for academic issues. But there was no guarantee Chestnut or Bell might not have won the job from Banks anyway.

“[Banks] was in a battle for quite some time. Terrell Chestnut has been doing well,’’ Holgorsen said “Travis Bell has been solid, as good as I’ve ever seen him. His physical condition is good. Where he’s at mentally right now is good.’’

Just as significant as cornerbacks to coverage is the free safety. That’s where Henry and Tyler battled all through August without either emerging as a clear-cut choice. Henry, though, is likely to be the starter.

“You forget he’s a freshman,’’ Holgorsen said, pointing out that he could very well be the only one from his class to start or even play significant minutes. “Last year and two years ago we were having this conversation about a whole bunch of [true freshmen]. We kind of forget that he is a true freshman because he’s a mature kid and he doesn’t have ups and downs.

“One of the things with a true freshman that you’ve never put out there before is trying to find out what their demeanor is like and how they are going to respond when there are 70,000 people in the stands and there’s a real opponent across the field. I think based on what he’s done in practice that he can handle it just fine, but we are going to look and see.’’

If Henry has any of those stage-fright issues, Tyler has been there before. He doesn’t have a lot of experience, but he did start last year’s finale against Iowa State and had his best game.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

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