Gibson tabs Norwood, Pitts, Bailey as starters at cornerback

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia dubs this a “mock week,” as in the week before the game week, whereby coaches simulate in-season logistics as sort of a dress-rehearsal.

Only the starting cast hasn’t been fully identified yet.

Before the Mountaineers go all-in on Tennessee preparation, there are a few more good-on-good practices to determine position battles within.

At center, junior Matt Jones reportedly enjoyed a strong scrimmage Saturday and has pulled even with sophomore Jacob Buccigrossi.

Adjacent at right guard, it appears newcomer Joe Brown holds a slight edge over senior Isaiah Hardy

There’s at least one starting job still up for debate on the defensive line, where depth is more plentiful than Tony Gibson has witnessed during any of his previous four seasons as coordinator.

Then there’s cornerback, where Gibson on Tuesday identified juniors Hakeem Bailey and Josh Norwood and sophomore Derrek Pitts as the standouts.

WVU cornerback Hakeem Bailey

“Norwood, Pitts and Bailey — they’re all three starters,” Gibson said. “Now, who’s going to go out there on the first series? I don’t know that, but that doesn’t matter to me. We need all three to play.”

(Primary in that revelation is the omission of former Michigan player Keith Washington, who appears to be slotted fourth, on the fringe  rotation.  Jake Long’s broken hand did not impact the starting chase, as the sophomore was working at the back of the rotation.)

Bailey is accustomed to some hype, having shone brightly during the runup to 2017, only to find himself benched after two games.

Pitts, the four-star recruit from South Charleston High, played safety as a true freshman but showed the temperament and athleticism for switching to cornerback.

“Pitts has always been really high on my list,” Gibson said. “I love the way that kid plays hard. He’s physical and he can cover.”

Norwood is another safety-turned-corner. At 5-foot-10, he’s shorter than Bailey and Pitts but makes up for it with fearless hitting. Projected to  play in the nickel packages and special teams, the former Ohio State signee quickly endeared himself to WVU coaches after rerouting through the juco ranks.

“That kid’s going to play a bunch. If we have to defend 80 snaps a game, I’d be shocked if he’s not in on 65 of them,” Gibson said.

The separation of those three cornerbacks gives assistant coach Doug Belk a nucleus of man-coverage options, crucial to enabling Gibson’s blitz-heavy schemes.

“Some guys have good days and then a string of bad days. We want guys who can consistently do it,” he said.

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