Projecting West Virginia's Defensive Starters for 2020
The identity of the West Virginia defense remains a big question mark entering the first full week of fall camp. With Vic Koenning no longer with the team, changes to the defense will be made, along with personnel groupings, and maybe even position changes. So since we don't know exactly where players will line up or what scheme they will run, we projected the team's starters by the three levels of the defense: defensive line, linebackers, and secondary.
Darius Stills - The eldest of the Stills brothers popped onto the scene in 2019 and was recently named Preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year by the media. He has a knack for creating negative plays and causing massive headaches for offensive line coaches throughout the Big 12. He knows how to make plays.
Dante Stills - Like Darius, Dante had a phenomenal 2019 campaign. He finished the season with 24 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and seven sacks. The duo coined the phrase, "meet me there, beat me there," to motivate one another to see who could get to the quarterback the most often. Expect similar production, if not better from both Stills brothers this fall.
Jeffery Pooler Jr. - Pooler finally broke-through last season, totaling 26 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. However, I think his best football is still ahead of him. With the Stills brother racking up all the sacks, there's not much of an opportunity for Pooler to break out and be an elite pass rusher, but I could see him doubling his sack total from last year, even in a short season.
Josh Chandler-Semedo - Despite missing much of three games in 2019, Chandler-Semedo was the team's second-leading tackler (72). Although he is considered "undersized," he was the Mountaineers' saving grace in the second level by shutting down the opportunity for big plays. He's a solid tackler, but if he can start shooting the gaps and create negative plays in the backfield, it makes the WVU defense that much stronger.
Dylan Tonkery - The veteran of the defensive unit, he had a nice bounce-back season last year after missing five games in 2018 due to injury. He's not the most talented player in the linebacking unit, but he is the leader of the corps, and his presence is much needed - especially with the lack of experience behind him.
VanDarius Cowan - The former Alabama transfer had a whirlwind of a season in 2019. He started the season suspended due to a suspension that carried over from his time in Tuscaloosa. Cowan made his Mountaineer debut on homecoming against Texas and made an impact right away in the pass-rushing department sacking Sam Ehlinger once and getting close several other times. If he can remain healthy, the Mountaineers will have yet another legit pass rusher coming off the edge.
Nicktroy Fortune - It was a rough year for the West Virginia secondary, especially for the young guys like Fortune. They were essentially thrown into the fire at times due to other injuries/ejections. Fortune stood his ground for the most part and came on strong at the end of the season, making a couple of very nice plays in the season finale win over TCU. Now that he has his feet wet look for Fortune to take the next step on his way to being the team's No. 1 corner.
Sean Mahone - If I had told you before last season started that Sean Mahone would be the team's leading tackler (80), you probably would have thought I was insane. Not to discredit Mahone's ability, but in his first two seasons of playing time, he only registered nine total tackles. Mahone dealt with injuries early in his career and was buried on the depth chart during that time as well. Once he got his opportunity to start, he never looked back.
Tykee Smith - Smith had a remarkable true freshman season that led him to being named an FWAA Freshman All-American and recognition on the All-Big 12 Honorable Mention list. He flew from sideline to sideline and always seemed to be near the ball. If he continues this rate of production, he will get serious consideration for the NFL.
Noah Guzman - The Mountaineers got some solid production from Guzman as a depth player in 2019. As we turn the page to 2020, I believe you will see his role in the defense increase, as to what capacity remains to be seen.
Jackie Matthews - West Virginia got a tremendous addition to the secondary with Matthews, who was a First-Team Junior College All-American at Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. He had a game-sealing interception in the end zone to help MGCC defeat Lackawanna in the junior college national championship. He finished the season with 52 tackles, six interceptions, and two forced fumbles. He has the chance to be West Virginia's lockdown man at corner as early as this season.
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