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Many surprises for WVU coaching staff

MORGANTOWN — If Gomer Pyle was an assistant coach on West Virginia’s football team the first words that would have come out of his mouth following Saturday’s scrimmage would have been “Surprise, surprise, surprise”.

Despite the loss of junior free safety Dravon Askew-Henry due to a season-ending torn ACL, WVU’s prevent unit shined, coming up with five turnovers — three coming on interceptions by Jeremy Tyler, Jarrod Harper and Nana Kyeremeh.

“I wanted to see our guys in man (coverage),” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “We threw our nickel package out there a bunch and I wanted to see how it would hold up on third down and try and create some stops that way.”

Making the biggest impression on Gibson and his defensive staff were redshirt senior linebacker Sean Walters and redshirt freshman cornerback Maurice Fleming.

“Yeah, I’ve said it about every day in these interviews,” continued Gibson. “I think he’s (Walters) a guy who waited his time. He’s a kid that has put in the work and you know he’s getting better. We’re happy with him, and he’s a guy we are counting on.”

Walters has played in 30 games since arriving in Morgantown in January of 2012. The 230-pounder played in 12 years during WVU’s 8-5 season a year ago, at Will linebacker, but mostly on special teams – finishing with 18 tackles (15 solo) and one sack. Fleming, who transferred from Iowa following last season, has been steadily working his way up the depth chart at corner and his performance against the offense’s bevy of talented receivers on Saturday only improved his shot at a starting job when Missouri comes to Mountaineer Field to open the season on Sept. 3.

“I like Maurice,” explained WVU’s defensive boss. “He works. He’s a kid that is relentless in every drill that we do, whether it’s turnover circuit, tackling circuit. Whatever it may be, he gives 100 percent. I like guys like that who are focused, they come here for a reason.

“He’s already got his undergrad degree. Just a good kid, and he’s focused and understands what he wants and how he’s going to do it. So just really happy with him.”

Offensively, the battles at right tackle and running back are bringing with them some surprises in the form of redshirt freshman Colton McKivitz, freshman Kennedy McCoy and junior college transfer Justin Crawford.

“It’s Colton developing,” Holgorsen noted. “Marcell’s (Lazard) gotten starting reps. He’s gotten a lot of game reps. He’s better than he was last year. I’m happy with Marcell. It’s just simply Colton’s athletic body, he is smart and probably ahead of the curve right now for his youth. Which is what you’re after. You want that competition.

“(Justin) Crawford is bringing that at running back. We all know (Rushel) Shell’s got starting experience. He knows what to do. Kennedy (McCoy) is developing competition. But if you can develop that kind of competition at every position, you’ve got a chance to be pretty good.”

Crawford, who saw more action than expected on Saturday due to Shell not playing because of a concussion, displayed his elusiveness in the open when he had the ball in his hands and making a couple of effective runs.

Moves which prompted running backs coach JaJuan Seider to say, “(Crawford) is going to put his mark on this program. I firmly believe that.”

NOTES: Freshman linebacker and St. Clairsville High School standout Brendan Ferns will miss the 2016 season after injuring the ACL in his left knee. Holgorsen said in a statement Tuesday that Ferns sustained the injury in practice Monday.

Ferns was not listed on the team’s depth chart released last week. He is the brother of West Virginia backup fullback Michael Ferns.

It marked the second season-ending injury to a West Virginia player in the past week. Junior safety Dravon Askew-Henry, the team’s top returning tackler, tore an ACL in his left knee in practice on Aug. 10. Askew-Henry had started all 26 career games.

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