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WVU football: Recruiting cornerbacks is a priority in Big 12

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- So blue is the blood that runs through the football programs at Texas and Oklahoma that they can talk to whatever college prospects they want and, if they so desire, offer a scholarship under the premise the player would be flattered and excited by the gesture.

What newcomers to the Big 12 were made to learn last week at the conference media days in Dallas is that the best high school players in Texas - which is to say the best players in the best state for high school football - are the presumed property of the Longhorns and Sooners in the Big 12 and Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference.

The Aggies are new to the SEC this fall and their inclusion has opened the door to Texas for other schools in the league, which figures to further thin the crop. Baylor and TCU, Arkansas and LSU, they all have their successes, but it takes time to reverse a generational pattern, and that time may never come.

This may seem like bad news for West Virginia, which wants to be big and rich in Texas. But really, when have the Mountaineers truly relied upon the Southwest for talent? They do fine recruiting Florida and the Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore area.

That ought to continue, though not exclusively. The Mountaineers are no strangers to Texas, though. What's wrong with talent that comes off the second or third shelf in that state? Who is disappointed with Dustin Garrison and who wasn't intrigued by Jordan Thompson in the spring or Ford Childress when he signed his scholarship?

That's a running back, receiver and quarterback and they had no Big 12 offers when they chose the Mountaineers. WVU's reputation is one for offense, for the players who throw and catch the ball, for an ability to cross that line and dance in the end zone.

It could all be changing, though, thanks to the new affiliation with the Big 12.

"If you prefer a challenge, this is the spot for you," said Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom. "The passing offenses we have and the competition you see with the quarterbacks and receivers, there's no better test."

In short, WVU's ability to recruit defensive backs, and cornerbacks in particular, is going to get better. It better get better, or else.

There are too many offenses to deal with on a weekly basis in the Big 12 not to have elite talent in the defensive backfield

And that's been a problem for WVU in the past several years. Since 2002, the Mountaineers have signed two of those coveted four-star high school cornerbacks.

Baylor had two four-star corners in the last recruiting class. WVU's two both came from the 2011 class, Vance Roberts and Terrell Chestnut. Roberts never played for WVU and since headed to a junior college to get his grades right. Chestnut, while promising, has a big fall camp ahead of him after missing his true freshman year last season with a shoulder injury.

The Mountaineers have Brodrick Jenkins, who seems fine and played pretty well late last season to earn a starting spot.

But Keith Tandy, a star high school quarterback who turned into a steady college cornerback, is in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Miller, who lost his starting spot to Jenkins and broke a bone in his foot in the spring, is the second likely starter.

Behind them? Not much. Not yet at least. The Mountaineers will need starters and backups this year and beyond. The nature of the Big 12 demands it and begs for a special type of player, too.

"It's a fun conference if you're the type of player who wants to be in it," said Oklahoma cornerback Demontre Hurst. "You know going in, each team is going to throw it 30, 40, 50 times a game. For me, going out there against the best receivers, tight ends, running backs, whoever, is really challenging and really fun.

"It's a chance to intercept balls and play defense to the best of your ability. This is a (defensive back's) world."

That becomes part of the pitch now, though the pitch will curve and knuckle from time to time. It's hard, and probably foolish, to guarantee success playing defense in the Big 12. Again, the other side of the ball does not simply allow it.

"There is all kinds of defensive talent in this league and you're going to get points scored against you because of the rules and the schemes," Iowa State Coach Paul Rhoads said. "So you've got to change it up because you can give up in the low 30s in a particular game and say, 'Hey, nice job,' and mean it because it really was."

It's really like that everywhere in college football now and we're in a time where scoring offense and scoring defense have become the game's most important statistic. Success for the Mountaineers this season could very well depend on what happens in the red zone and if they or the opponent kicks field goals or scores touchdowns.

The offenses are like that in the Big 12. They attack with an array of formations and plans. Quarterbacks throw it, but they throw it everywhere and to everyone. There is a variety of receivers - big and small, slow and speedy and everything in between. Tight ends are not decoys. Running backs are weapons in the passing game.

What's a cornerback to do when the constant challenges can differ from game to game, or sometimes down to down?

"It all comes down to technique," Byndom said. "You're going to be facing so many guys with great talent, either the same or better than yours, and they're going to be bigger than you or smaller than you. There are so many types in the Big 12.

"But it's about who has better technique because smaller cornerbacks can beat big receivers and slower cornerbacks can beat fast receivers as long as they have good technique."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blog.dailymail.com/wvu.

 


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