MORGANTOWN — Some like it hot.
Perhaps no one, though, likes it to the degree of WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.
The man likes to send heat like the Las Vegas sun does in July.
In order to be effective at sending blitzes, however, teams have to have strong cornerback play.
And that made the starting selections there interesting to note as the Mountaineers creep up on Sunday’s 7:30 p.m. opener against Virginia Tech at FedExField in Landover, Maryland.
Heading out of spring drills, most figured West Virginia would line up with Syracuse transfer Corey Winfield, a senior, at one cornerback spot and Elijah Battle, another senior who played in 11 games for the Mountaineers last season, at the other.
Well, surprise, surprise.
On the left side, redshirt sophomore Hakeem Bailey, who, like Battle, is a junior college transfer, is listed No. 1 on the game-week depth chart. He enrolled at WVU in January after playing a season at Iowa Wesleyan Community College. He redshirted at the school in 2015.
On the right side, senior Mike Daniels won the top spot, although Winfield is recovering from finger surgery. Daniels, a Miami native, played sparingly at WVU last season after spending two seasons at Globe Tech Community College.
“Mike is a guy we’ve been high on since he got here,” Gibson said. “A year ago he was in the mix and got beat out. Now he’s a senior and had a great offseason. But it’s not like we’re only going to play two corners. All four of those guys are going to play.”
“Mike has probably been the most consistent to this point,” added cornerbacks coach Doug Belk. “We had a stretch where guys went back and forth. I feel good with our situation with three or four guys there.”
Bailey, 6-foot, 193 pounds, is originally from Atlanta.
“He’s really consistent and really has a unique skill set,” Belk said. “He’s long, athletic and it’s important to him. Plus, he’s very instinctive and makes plays on the ball. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time.”
Winfield, 6-1, 190 pounds, started for Syracuse the last two seasons.
“Corey is a good player,” Belk said. “He’s a proven player. He started 20-some games in the ACC. He’s been injured, so he hasn’t practiced a lot. Hopefully we’ll be able to get him up to speed and competing.”
Battle’s No. 2 listing was the surprise if you consider Winfield’s injury.
“[Bailey] did a really good job and we [chart] production: tackles, missed tackles, the good, the bad and, we say, the ugly as well,” Belk said. “He had a lot of production, a lot of positive things. So did Elijah, but we kind of measured it off that. That’s how we set our depth chart. Nothing is set in stone, but we feel good about our guys.”
“We try to get them an equal amount of reps with the [first team],” Gibson explained. “If a kid is going with the ‘ones’ all day and another is going against the ‘twos,’ it’s apples and oranges. So we try to split reps. One day one guy goes with the ‘ones’ and the other goes with the ‘twos’ and then we flip it. In scrimmages, we’ve repped all those guys with the ‘ones’ to build depth.”
Belk said the evaluations go relatively deep.
“We chart mental errors and missed assignments,” he said. “Those are the biggest two things. We can coach the techniques, but we don’t want you just freelancing.”
Belk added that with Winfield sidelined, young corners like redshirt freshmen Jake Long and Sean Mahone and junior college transfer Fontez Davis received extra looks.
Now, though, the task is to match up effectively against Virginia Tech.
“I think we match up well with those guys,” Belk said. “They have one veteran [in Cam Phillips], a really, really good player who has been very successful. He’s their key guy. There are unknowns, but we think we have a pretty good feel for what they’ll do with him. Still, there will be new wrinkles we’ll have to deal with.”
Tech will be starting a new quarterback in redshirt freshman Josh Jackson.
“There are a lot of unknowns,” Belk said. “We don’t know his skill set. We don’t have any tape on him. We’ve been working more on playing mistake-free. We’ll just respond to what he’s doing and be disciplined.
“I think our guys are ready to accept the challenge.”
n During his Tuesday press conference, WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen commented on true freshman Reggie Roberson, who made the depth chart at the “X” receiver behind David Sills.
“He keeps improving and works hard,” Holgorsen said. “That’s about it.”
He then added that Roberson “has bright eyes. He’s eager. He’s fast. He likes to play.”
n Holgorsen has said in the past the freshmen not on the initial depth chart would likely redshirt. Gibson, though, strongly indicated that won’t be the case on his side of the ball.
“There are some clear-cut guys that won’t make the trip, but we have guys like Kenny Robinson and, up front, [Lamonte] McDougal and [Darius] Stills.
“We’re not in the business of redshirting. If they’re ready to go, they’re going to play.”