Year of experience to pay dividends for WVU's safeties

Apr. 19—MORGANTOWN — In football, if one side of the ball is happy, the other usually isn’t.

So while quarterbacks coach Sean Reagan thought his group had its worst day of the spring on Tuesday, safeties coach Dontae Wright was all smiles.

“It doesn’t work both ways, ” Wright said with a mile-wide grin. “If one’s having success, the other one’s unhappy.”

WVU’s defense did not have very many good days last season, especially in the secondary, so Wright had every reason to be happy on Tuesday.

“We got the ball in our hands a bunch, ” Wright said. “I know we had four, maybe five (interceptions) for sure and we dropped maybe three more. We should’ve had the opportunity for seven or eight takeaway opportunities out of the back seven.”

That’s a lot of turnovers for one practice, especially for a team that only managed to grab four interceptions in 2022.

The key this spring, according to Wright, has been cutting down the playbook so that players have an easier time mastering the things they’re being asked to do.

“More is not always better, ” Wright said. “I would say that’s the number-one thing that we’ve done, we’ve really limited our play call. In our league, there are so many formations and shifts and motions that when you put a lot of plays to that, you’ve got to remember a whole lot more. Then you play slow or you have an opportunity for big-time errors.”

Wright thinks that was the team’s downfall last year—young players were being asked to do so many things that they couldn’t do any of them at a high level.

“They were completely new to it, ” Wright said of the group that included Aubrey Burks, Jacolby Spells, Hershey McLaurin and Marcis Floyd. “I know they had played defense before, but when you play defense in high school, you maybe have one or two calls. We don’t have the liberty to do that at this level, so you’ve got to teach them from the ground up.”

It was only two seasons ago that WVU had one of the most-experienced safety groups in the country with Alonzo Addae (47 career games), Sean Mahone (55) and Scottie Young (43). All three left after the 2021 season, however, and the Mountaineers basically had to start over from scratch.

“It was a clean slate and you had to teach them everything, ” Wright said. “They had growing pains, true growing pains and that was expected. That’s why I’m excited because once you got halfway through the year, you knew they’re starting to come on.”

The combination of getting experience last season and the abbreviated playbook this year has Wright excited for what WVU’s back end can be in 2023.

“I’m excited about them, ” Wright said. “That’s what every coach comes in here and says is they’re excited about their group, but I really am excited about this group because they have that year under their belt.

“When you get really good on defense is when you know what you’re doing like the back of your hand. Now it allows you to look at what the offense is telling you.”

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