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WVU 2023 Safety Preview

As we wind down our pre-season coverage of the West Virginia Mountaineers heading into game week against Penn State, we continue our position preview series. We’ve looked at various positions on the depth chart, including wide receiveroffensive line, and defensive line. Now, we offer our WVU 2023 safety preview.

WVU 2023 Safety Preview

Of all the position groups heading into the opener against Penn State, safety may be the most intriguing. It could prove to be a surprising strength of the defense, or it could prove to be a liability. The intrigue comes from the fact that there is no real middle ground.

We wrote extensively over the last several years about the heavy attrition out of the program in the secondary. The safety room offers no reprieve. As a result, including the Spear position, the Mountaineers have nine players to man three spots on the field. Only four of those have started any games at the Power Five level. Those include Lance DixonMarcis FloydAubrey Burks, and Hershey McLaurin.

The Returning Veterans

Of those three, Burks enters the season with the most accolade, appearing on multiple All-Conference teams for the Big 12. Pro Football Focus believes Burks is one of the most underrated safeties in the country. Burks returns to man the Free safety position with 17 appearances and 11 starts under his belt. Last season, he accumulated 66 tackles, four-and-a-half tackles for loss, a sack, an interception, and a forced fumble. If the defense sees improvement in 2023, Burks will figure largely into the equation.

At Cat Safety, Floyd likely earns the starting spot here. He started 11 games last season after transferring from Murray State. After another offseason and Fall camp training at the Power Five level, we expect Floyd to take a step forward in his coverage skills, adding to his 64 tackles from last season.

Finally, at Spear, we expect Dixon and McLaurin to share snaps at this position. Both offer different looks for the team. Dixon seems to be a bit of a “tweener” at this level despite earning a five-star designation coming out of high school from 247Sports. He offers more of a true linebacker for the position, while McLaurin offers more traditional safety skills to the position. We would not be surprised to see some alignments with both on the field, considering some of the question marks that linger at the linebacker position. Indeed, there are those who surround the program who believe Dixon will not last at spear, not because he does not deserve to be on the field, but because his skills translate better to the Will linebacker slot. In many ways, Dixon may be “stranded” at Spear simply because he is too good to be left off the field.

The Fresh Faces

Here is where the intrigue in our WVU 2023 safety preview really begins. Some of our “fresh” faces include returning players who saw limited action last season. We start with Christion Stokes, who remains one of our favorite Class of 2022 recruits due to his versatility. He came to Morgantown after putting plenty of punishing tackles and impressive forced turnovers on tape through high school. Indeed, he reminded us quite a bit of former Mountaineer legend Karl Joseph coming in. He might be a future star in the making, but we have not yet seen him have the opportunity to show it on the field.

Raleigh Collins also qualifies as a fresh face in his second year with the program. A redshirt last season, Collins offers depth at the Spear position, with hybrid linebacker-safety skills. He may not see much action in 2023, but we think he remains a face to look for as the staff has opportunities to give younger players experience for 2024 and beyond.

Newcomer transfer Anthony Wilson has turned heads in Fall camp. If he hasn’t been the most talked-up player by the staff this Fall, he certainly does a good impression. Wilson transferred to Morgantown from Georgia Southern, so he may take a while to acclimate to the game speed. That said, Wilson’s skills, once they translate, should allow him to see the field more and more often as the season progresses.

Finally, the Mountaineers added Keyshawn Cobb through the transfer portal and Aden Nelson as a true freshman. We don’t expect to hear Nelson’s name called much this season, but Cobb looks like he’s earned sole control of the backup Free safety slot on the roster. He should see plenty of snaps this season.

Photo Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

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