The Dominion Post  

WVU defense has depth to match offense

Created on:   Sat, Feb 24, 2018   9:29 PM

Last modified:   Sat, Feb 24, 2018   9:29 PM

The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN — The constant juggling act of graduation within college sports hasn’t been kind to the WVU football team the last few years.

Whenever the Mountaineers, who begin spring practice on Feb. 27, offense was expected to excel with eight or nine returning starters, the defense was depleted and had to replace eight or nine starters. The next season, the defense would return a bunch, but the offense needed to pick up the pieces.

The offense and defense couldn’t make it work during the same season — until this year. WVU returns seven starters on offense and six on defense.

Each unit on defense loses a key component from last fall’s team, but overall, there is plenty of experience and production back to make a run for a team with high expectations heading in Tuesday’s beginning of spring practice.

Here is a, defensive position outlook for WVU heading into spring camp:


Adam Shuler II’s announcement Wednesday that he was leaving the program was a big blow at defensive end for the Mountaineers. However, Ezekiel Rose stepped in and split time with Shuler and nearly overtook the starting job from him, anyway.

Rose will likely start at defensive end, while Reese Donahue returns opposite him. Sophomore Lamonte McDougle started the second half of the season as a freshman at defensive tackle and did not let go.

As for the backup roles, sophomores Darius Stills and Jeffery Pooler, and senior Jaleel Fields will add depth.


Replacing “Mike” LB Al-Rasheed Benton will not be easy because of his production on the field and leadership off of it.

No obvious name stands out to replace him, unless others are moved from outside to inside. Brendan Ferns is coming off a shoulder injury that ended his season after four games, and Adam Hensley, Zach Sandwisch and Logan Thimons don’t have much experience. All should get a chance to prove themselves at Mike.

David Long, arguably the best defender the Mountaineers have, returns at “Will,” unless it’s decided he can move inside. Long had 76 tackles, including 16 1/2 for loss, after missing the first month of the season recovering from knee surgery.

At “Sam,” Dylan Tonkery started for Long until he came back, but was too good to keep off the field, to he split time with Xavier Preston. Tonkery finished with 43 tackles and 6 1/2 for loss. Now a sophomore, he can settle into his new role.

Junior-college transfer Charlie Benton and early-enrollee Josh Chandler will have a chance to compete in spring.


For the third year in a row, WVU must replace both starting corners. Mike Daniels and Elijah Battle graduated after taking a majority of the reps.

Hakeem Bailey started a few games and should be the favorite to reclaim that spot. The other is a tossup between players without much, if any, experience — Keith Washington, Kevin Williams, Sean Mahone, Jake Long and Fontez Davis will all battle it out this spring.

Kenny Robinson started as a freshman at cornerback but was moved to safety, where he thrived. He could get reps at cornerback to see if he could make the switch, though it would hurt depth at safety.


Kyzir White leaves a void at “spur,” but the rest of the safeties are set in stone.

Robinson’s move to free safety changed the entire complexion of the defense last season. If he stays there, Dravon Askew-Henry will have a camp to practice at bandit after being moved there mid-season.

Toyous Avery is a diamond in the rough, he can try to take the spur spot, as well as provide depth behind Askew-Henry, as bandit. The same goes for Derrek Pitts and Jovanni Stewart, who played in depth roles last year.

Other names who could get into the mix at redshirt freshmen E.J. Brown and Exree Loe, and JUCO transfer Josh Norwood.


Billy Kinney has been WVU’s punter the last two years, but was threatened by Jonn Young throughout last season.

Young has since transferred, so Kinney’s job is safe during camp and it could be a time for him to set the bar.