Tony Gibson. Gibby. The architect of the “Pond Fork” defense. However you refer to him, one thing everyone can agree on is when it comes to WVU’s top Dawg, he is not one to mince words. Look no further than last year’s Oklahoma post-game interview when, after the Mountaineer defense was drubbed to the tune of 59 points, he insisted Dana should fire him.
So it should come as welcome tidings, then, that Tony Gibson’s recent comments about his defense have steered toward the positive. When pressed about how his secondary is performing in camp, he had this to offer:
“I told the whole defense this morning… my goal, probably, by two weeks from now: I want to have a best 11 on the field. I don’t care if we have to put [Joshua] Norwood at middle backer, MIKE backer, SAM backer, D-end… he’ll be on the field somewhere.”
In a vacuum, those comments wouldn’t be significant by themselves. But when you start to look at the bigger picture — the rave reviews on a rebuilt defensive line, the healthy return of David Long — you start to get a sense that perhaps Tony Gibson may be considering something a bit radical.
After all, this is the same Gibby who coached a unit that finished 91st in the nation in total defense last season, thanks in part to bad luck on the injury front. Gibson may not want injuries to hamstring the effectiveness of his unit for a second straight year.
The 3-3-5 has had some great seasons in Morgantown, don’t get me wrong. Jeff Casteel masterminded some absolutely swarming attacks during Rich Rodriguez’s run. Even Gibson himself has fielded stack defenses that have been quite good, especially by Big 12 standards. But for very practical personnel reasons, it may be in West Virginia’s best interest to consider a different base package — at least for the 2018 season.
A cursory look at the 2018 depth chart shows both Morgantown veterans (Reese Donahue, Kenny Robinson, Ezekiel Rose, Dylan Tonkery, David Long, Hakeem Bailey, Toyous Avery, Dravon Askew-Henry) and new, impact-ready talent (Kenny Bigelow, Jabril Robinson, Joshua Norwood, Charlie Benton, Dante Stills). Neither of those categories were particularly strong in 2017.
Singling out a Buckeye transfer like Norwood and teasing his use at multiple positions is very telling for two reasons in particular:
- With all the returning talent and experience in the secondary, Gibson must feel really good about his personnel if a year-one transfer is good enough for him to tout publicly.
- Gibson is refusing to be handcuffed to any one scheme or defensive identity.
Because of the injuries at linebacker (Quondarius Qualls and Brendan Ferns, specifically), and because of the depth now present at the other two levels of the defense, fans could see some 4-2-5 looks this season. Additionally, Norwood and Avery could see some playing time as outside linebackers.
Gibson knows that the defense has to take care of their end. That’s as uncomplicated as it gets. A change in scheme philosophy may allow West Virginia to get its best 11 on the field.