MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University’s situation at cornerback is like the footballs the players defend.
Up in the air.
After the Mountaineers’ 56-20 home victory over East Carolina, WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson suggested to the Gazette-Mail that true freshman Kenny Robinson, moved from safety to corner, might start against Delaware State.
And on Tuesday, Gibson was again asked if there would be changes to the Mountaineer defensive depth chart.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “Everywhere. The depth chart is never set. It’s for one game or one week. Right now we’re really still in the process. We don’t really get a preseason. So we have to make things count early on. We need to get ready for the Big 12.”
The Mountaineers are ranked No. 112 nationally in total defense and No. 73 in team passing efficiency defense.
“We’re not happy right now at corner,” Gibson said. “We need to keep searching and trying to find that guy. I’m not down on [Hakeem Bailey and Mike Daniels]. They just need to be able to finish plays a little better — and have confidence in what they’re doing.
“They’re all good players. And they all have great confidence in practice. But then we get to the games and I don’t know what happens to them. We have to keep coaching them up and working to develop depth.”
Gibson and WVU have had luck starting freshmen in the secondary. Current free safety Dravon Askew-Henry and now-Los Angeles Raider Karl Joseph were both inserted immediately.
Gibson spoke glowingly of Robinson, 6-foot, 202 pounds.
“I want somebody to go in and compete and cover guys,” Gibson said. “We made that move last week in practice. He’s fearless. I like where he’s at and his mindset. That’s what I want for every DB and, really, every defensive guy. Kenny thinks he’s probably the best player on the field, which is a good thing.”
It’s uncertain how the Mountaineer secondary will line up. When the school’s sports information department issued the depth chart for this week’s game against Delaware State, it was status quo.
“We have to have a No. 1 and 2 [at cornerback] — and right now that’s kind of up in the air,” Gibson said. “We have to play with confidence at that position and, if not, we’re not able to do what we do. We’re not going to be able to pressure people. And in this [Big 12] league you’re not going to survive without pressuring quarterbacks.”
Gibson took some blame when discussing the WVU defense as a whole.
“Good and bad,” he said. “I think maybe I panicked a little bit Saturday. … The thing that was frustrating was it wasn’t a clean game. We were missing too many tackles and guys were on the ground a bunch. I just didn’t like where we were at.
“I got on them pretty hard at halftime. Then we came out in the second half and it was just more of the same. Being up 49-3, I’m sure they were disinterested a little bit. But you can’t do that. We don’t have enough guys as we have in the past where you can rest those guys in the second half and say, ‘All right, let’s move on to Delaware State.’ ”
Gibson, a Van native, said he called for more pressure than was probably necessary against ECU. No sacks, however, were recorded.
“It wasn’t good,” he said. “We have to get that fixed. And I have to be careful knowing we have so many young guys. We have to be a better coaching staff and get these guys going.”
Al-Rasheed Benton leads the team with 16 tackles, but Gibson pointed to another linebacker when it came to praise.
“Dylan Tonkery is probably playing as well as anybody on our defense other than Kyzir [White],” he said. “If you take every snap of the last two games, Dylan Tonkery is the second-best guy we have on paper.”
Keep in mind David Long is out with an injury and Tonkery, who has eight tackles, is filling in.
“Those other linebackers better start playing better,” Gibson said of the situation. “I thought Al played extremely hard and well the first game, but I didn’t think he played as well last week. Same thing with [Xavier] Preston. Tonkery has been the most consistent.”
He added former four-star recruit Brendan Ferns “isn’t consistent enough yet.”
n WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said in his weekly press conference the Mountaineers had off days on Sunday and Monday because of NCAA rules, but resumed work on Tuesday for the Saturday noon contest with 0-2 Delaware State.
n Holgorsen lauded the play of backup quarterback Chris Chugunov, who completed 5 of 9 passes for 51 yards against ECU.
“I felt like our second-team guys missed out on opportunities to improve,” said the coach. “You can’t say that about Chugs. I thought he looked as good as he has since being here.”
n The head coach said Robinson’s move to cornerback was Gibson’s idea.
“Gibby wanted to do that. Initially, we felt we needed more safety help than corner. … But when we recruited him we were like, ‘That guy might be a corner.’ Felt the same way about [Derrek] Pitts.”