WVU football: Cornerbacks get a 'clean slate'
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- In new West Virginia cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell's mind, the 2013 season is neither a second chance for the Mountaineers' corners nor the first year under a new assistant coach.
It's merely a new set of downs.
The Mountaineers finished last season ranked No. 118 in pass defense and allowed 312.8 yards per game. Daron Roberts was fired as cornerbacks coach and Coach Dana Holgorsen reached into his past and hired the former East Carolina defensive coordinator.
Mitchell cares not for what his new players did in what is now their former life.
"Everyone got a clean slate," said Mitchell, a former NFL player and college assistant at BYU and with Holgorsen at Texas Tech. "Yeah, I'm going to go back and watch film. I want to know weaknesses and strengths, but we went into the offseason six or seven weeks ago and gave everyone a clean slate and said, 'Let's move forward.' We put last year's experience in the rearview mirror."
WVU allowed 99 pass plays of more than 15 yards last season. Nobody gave up more. WVU allowed 45 pass plays of 20 yards or more. Only Duke was worse by surrendering eight more.
Yet Mitchell didn't need to watch the tape to know his players were at the root of a lot of that trouble. He didn't have to pore over plays and series to see what had gone wrong.
"I didn't care," he said. "It doesn't matter now."
What's important now in Mitchell's first spring with the Mountaineers and the seven healthy cornerbacks on scholarship - Terrell Chestnut is out injured - is what the players put on tape in the 14 practices before the Gold-Blue Game on April 20.
Their history is just that.
"I know what it takes to develop corners and the No. 1 thing for corner play is you need a group of fearless players out there," Mitchell said.
Last season was particularly frightening for WVU, but Mitchell doesn't want that to be a part of the thinking.
He doesn't want it to serve as a reminder of the low moments or as motivation to reach new heights. Like it is during a game, he wants his players to have a short memory in the offseason, too.
"You're going to get beat and everyone in the stands is going to know it and everyone on national TV is going to know it," Mitchell said. "What are you going to do on the next play? You can go out there and hang your head and continue the process and stay down, or you can get right back on the horse and go compete and make the play the next time. It's on you."
The Mountaineers didn't have great depth at the position last season, but they started five cornerbacks as players dropped out because of injury or performance. Pat Miller graduated, but Brodrick Jenkins, Ishmael Banks, Nana Kyeremeh and Chestnut started games and Ricky Rumph played often. Vernon Davis, a transfer from Miami, and redshirt freshman Brandon Napoleon have been a part of the competition from the start of the first practice March 10.
Jenkins was a junior and Banks a sophomore, but Kyeremeh and Rumph were true freshmen and Chestnut was a redshirt freshman. For a variety of reasons, the Mountaineers had to play them last season.
They'll have to play them again this season. The Mountaineers didn't add anyone from the 2013 recruiting class. One commitment didn't sign and WVU was otherwise limited with the amount of scholarships it could afford to grant at the position.
"The corner position was obviously one that we talked a lot about," Holgorsen said. "Coach Mitchell is in here to continue to teach these guys from a developmental process. We played four or five freshmen corners. Those guys have to grow up. Those guys have to play."
Mitchell isn't concerned about age or experience, though. He has who he has and his job is to turn them into a similarly skilled group of starters and backups who consistently push one another. The lessons in the spring are all pretty basic.
This is their beginning.
"We're going to have to do it by committee until guys get position mastery," Mitchell said. "No one guy has stepped two steps ahead of the rest of the group. ... We're working on simple successes. One day it might be stance and start. The next day may be effort. The next day may be, 'Let's master technique in Cover 2.' Overall, my goal hopefully by the end of spring is to have a confident group of individuals."
Along the way and then through the summer, he'll figure out if he'll stick with field and boundary corners or if he can assign players the left side and the right so they can keep up with up-tempo offenses. Mitchell will learn more about his personnel and whether they can play man coverage or if they're better in zone, or if the Mountaineers are best served by varying what they present.
It's about what he's confident his talent can handle, but talent isn't as important as the confidence.
"You can tell from him coaching and being around him these last couple of months that he knows what he is doing," Jenkins said. "All he wants us to do is just buy in and I feel like he is going to be able to take us to a good place this year."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.