MORGANTOWN — As one can imagine, with Alabama awaiting West Virginia when the 2014 football season emerges from its summer-long womb, much of the talk has centered around the Crimson Tide, including the coaches beginning to force-feed the summer scouting report to the Mountaineers.
But, the other day, as the team broke off from its early summer workouts to take a couple of weeks of vacation, defensive coordinator Tony Gibson gathered his group around him and delivered as important a message as he is going to deliver this year.
“The No. 1 thing I told the kids in our last meeting is that I’m tired of hearing about Alabama, let’s get West Virginia right first,” he revealed during a mid-summer media swing that included interviews with the masses and an appearance on the MetroNews Statewide Sportsline. “Let’s worry about us, get our guys going in the right direction and be the best team we can be when we get back and start camp on July 30. We can rock ‘n roll then.”
Indeed, Alabama is Alabama and to beat them, West Virginia must be West Virginia … not the West Virginia that appeared on the field the past couple of years, but the proud, hard-hitting group of the glory years where offense was basic and honest and the defense was rock-ribbed.
And, for Gibson, that begins at the beginning.
Asked his No. 1 concern, Gibson offered the A out of the ABCs of football.
“Lining up,” he answered.
Now that sounds like the most simple of things. You do it in sandlot football, junior high, high school … but Gibson says it isn’t quite as easy as it seems.
“I’ve told the players this,” he said. “We’re going to get lined up. It sounds like a simple thing, but you get to the Big 12 and they go as fast as they can. There were a lot of times when we went back and watched film and we weren’t lined up.”
And, if you aren’t lined up?
“If you don’t start right, you’re not going to finish right,” Gibson said.
So, if you are going to run a 3-4, you better have those linemen over the right offender and the linebackers positioned where they can make plays.
And that’s going to be the key once they master finding the proper positioning on the field.
“In turn, being lined up isn’t going to help you make a play. We have to work on tackling. We can’t give up the big play. People are going to make good catches, but we have to limit yards after the catch. We have to become good tacklers and students of the game. Our kids have to become savvy and football smart,” Gibson said.
“I think that’s happening right now.”
This is the result of a rule change that everyone in BCS football was in favor of, allowing the coaches to work with their players in the summer.
Now the workouts are limited, not football practice as you’ve come to know it.
They meet two days a week, 30 to 40 minutes in the meeting room, then 20 to 30 minutes of individual drills on the field.
They do not use a football and there are group settings, like offense vs. defense.
But they work on individual techniques.
“Like the stance,” Gibson said. “Where your eyes are looking, what’s the keys. It’s good for us as coaches. It makes us teach instead of just working with schemes.”
Players schooled in fundamentals … imagine.
“Will it help the first day of camp? I don’t know,” said Gibson. “But I think you will see the result later in the year.”
The thing is, WVU believes it finally has defensive players who are capable of playing in the Big 12 … the likes of Daryl Worley at corner with a year under his belt and tied to one position, a markedly improved defensive line with Christian Brown, Tyler Rose and Dontrill Hyman, solid linebacking built around Jared Barber, Isaiah Bruce and Nick Kwiatkoski, the hard-hitting safety Karl Joseph and spur KJ Dillon, who they are calling perhaps the best athlete on the team.
And then there’s a newcomer, a freshman from Aliquippa, Pa., named Dravon Henry about whom Gibson is raving … something you rarely see with a kid who has yet to play a down.
“He’s natural,” Gibson said. “There’s a lot of stuff you can teach and coach and a lot you can’t. He’s just got it. You hate to put that tag on a kid and talk much about him when he hasn’t played a play yet, but where he’s at right now compared to guys I’ve coached in the past, he’s ahead of the game.
“He’s a special kid and he wants to be good. He works at it. He’s not scared to upset upperclassmen by beating them in sprints or runs or lifts or anything. He’s got it … and that can carry over into the football season.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel