Mountaineers’ 2020 Safety Preview
We continue our West Virginia preseason football coverage with our Mountaineers’ 2020 safety preview.
2019: Issues with Depth
The Mountaineers suffered at various points last season through depth and injury concerns. The offseason attrition at the position left West Virginia without several young, promising contributors. Ball-hawk Kenny Robinson and Derrek Pitts both left the program within months after West Virginia hired Head Coach Neal Brown. Robinson fell victim to academic issues, and Pitts may have left for other reasons. E.J. Brown also left the team.
As a result, the Mountaineers leaned heavily on a pair of freshmen, Tykee Smith and Kerry Martin, and second-year transfer Josh Norwood to fill its ranks. Norwood suffered a late-season injury on a tremendous interception that effectively ended his career in Morgantown. Of all safeties, Sean Mahone logged the most snaps (803) at cat safety. While the group showed plenty of promise at points in the season, the pass defense took a big step back overall in 2019. Issues with depth in this group represent a large part of the reason why.
2020 Safety Preview
The Starters and Backups
Fortunately, West Virginia returns six safeties who logged over 50 snaps in 2019. In addition to Smith, Martin, and Mahone, the Mountaineers bring back former walk-on Dante Bonamico (52 snaps), Noah Guzman (180 snaps), and Jake Long (74 snaps). These six represent the first- and second-string players at the safety positions for 2020.
Smith put up excellent numbers as a true freshman. He logged 50 tackles (two-and-a-half for loss), two interceptions (one a pick-six), a forced fumble, and a sack. Smith should continue to develop well and could be a second-team All-Conference player (or better) in 2020. He will start at the spear safety position. Bonamico will serve as his primary backup.
Martin took a bit longer to contribute in his freshman season, but he still logged over 500 snaps, 50 tackles, and a fumble recovery. Expect him to take a big jump in 2020 and start at free safety. Long will serve as his primary backup.
Finally, Mahone will continue to start at the cat safety position. Mahone led the Mountaineers in tackles last season, compiling 77 (five for loss). He also added an interception and forced fumble to his career lines. Guzman backs him up at the position.
Depth Remains an Issue
While only one of the starters (Mahone) graduates after this season, two of the backups (Bonamico and Long) also face expiring eligibility. Unfortunately, the third-string consists of three more seniors. Former walk-on Osman Kamara is expected to contribute, as is Alonzo Addae. If Arizona transfer Scottie Young gains eligibility (either by graduating or obtaining a waiver), he will also serve as a senior backup. Young has the most game experience of the three, as he was a three-year starter at Arizona.
Behind them, the Mountaineers brought in several recruits for the secondary over the past couple of seasons, including blueshirt Tacorey Turner. Turner, along with junior college standout Jackie Matthews, and true freshman Darryl Porter could fill in the ranks and earn snaps at the safety position through the season. While this group has not played Power 5 football yet, they should get opportunities, especially since the staff knows they need to build some experience for 2021 and beyond.
Finally, a group of walk-ons could earn scholarships this season. The best of the bunch might be Jayvon Thrift, a mid-tier three-star recruit out of high school. But Jordan Dempsey, Nick Yoho, and Naim Muhammad might also contribute in situations where the staff really needs depth.