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WVU’s defense stepping up

September 16, 2018

CHARLESTON — Senior Dravon Askew-Henry is the elder statesman of the West Virginia University football secondary. Through his career in Morgantown he has seen just about all there is to see as a defensive back, which shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider how many different positions he has played for the Mountaineers.

The former Aliquippa (Pennsylvania) High standout came to WVU as a cornerback and started at free safety as a freshman and sophomore before

a knee injury forced him off the field for a season. He then spent time as a strong safety last year, and now in his final season in Morgantown, Askew-Henry is the man at spur for the Mountaineers.

So when Askew-Henry starts talking about versatility, he has some first-hand experience to draw on in order to form those opinions, and some of his teammates might be wise to hear what he has to say.

Sophomore Derrek Pitts, a former Kanawha Valley Player of the Year at South Charleston High School, made the move from safety to corner in the offseason. Just last week, senior JoVanni Stewart shifted from the secondary to the Sam linebacker position. WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson has proven in recent seasons he does not mind taking a player out of his comfort zone if he thinks it will make the defense better.

“We have a lot of versatility on the defense,” Askew-Henry said. “I mean, knowing people can move from safety to linebacker or safety to corner — that’s big on defense and I feel like we’ve got the right pieces in the right positions.

“Coach Gibson must see something in some of us that we don’t see in ourselves. Sometimes we’ll come in on a regular day and it’s, ’Hey, you’re moving to this today. Hey, you’re moving to this,” and then we go in there and play. I’m with a group of guys who like to play football and, like I said, I feel like we have all the right pieces this year.”

That versatility comes at a price, however. Players such as Pitts and Stewart, while so far capable in their new roles, still need as many reps as Gibson can throw at them in order to get a better feel for their new jobs on the field.

Against Tennessee, Gibson said he was trying some different things schematically. Last week against Youngstown State, with WVU taking control of the game early, Gibson was able to settle more into his traditional 3-3-5 look.

“I knew we were going to eat some clock up — I think we defended seven snaps in the first quarter, so it kind of got boring over there,” Gibson said. “Once we got the lead I knew we could just be patient and do what we do and call a lot of base stuff to get JoVanni a lot of reps. Plus our other guys as well. (Against)Tennessee I was doing a lot of different things, so it was really good to get that many snaps of our base defense on film and be able to watch it with our guys because there are times in a game when you want to calm everybody down and call something that we know.”

At one point in the second quarter last week it appeared as though the Penguins were trying to pick on Pitts. He was flagged for pass interference once on the drive when he appeared to bring down the Penguins’ receiver with the ball still in the air, but otherwise the former Black Eagle held his own and was often in good position to make the play.

“Good and bad,” Gibson said of Pitts’ play last week.“I thought (Pitts) was active early. Had a nice pass breakup, but I thought he should’ve had an interception. (He) ended up having I think three (pass breakups). Played physical, tackled pretty well. Tackled the wideout without the ball one time pretty well. Got a (pass interference penalty) for that. He’s just got to get his confidence up and keep going. He’s going to play a lot of us.”

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