WVU Defensive Position Battles to Watch in 2020

Daniel Woods

West Virginia’s defense showed promise in creating havoc and stopping opponents in year one under defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. With most of that lineup back, It can be expected for the group to possibly take a step forward in 2020.

Most of that will hinge on the results of position battles set to take place in the fall. A pair of spots in the secondary and one on the defensive line will make for some heated competition when practice begins and have a major effect on what the Mountaineer defense looks like in the coming season.

Defensive End: Jeffery Pooler (R-Sr.) vs. Taijh Alston (R-Jr.)

The final spot on West Virginia’s defensive line alongside the Stills brothers will likely be decided between these two as each stood out at times in 2019.

Jeffery Pooler enters his final season in gold and blue coming off the best year of his career in which he made seven starts in 12 appearances while tallying 13 tackles, 4.5 for loss, and 3.5 sacks. An additional pass rushing element, he made things very dangerous in opposing backfields.

Pooler has spent time at multiple positions on the defensive line but has separated himself as a starting caliber player in the last few years of his career. Having both him and his competitor in this race is a luxury that West Virginia has to be happy to have.

That competitor is Taijh Alston, a promising contributor at this position in 2019 before a knee injury against Missouri sidelined him for the year. Prior to that, he tallied one sack in the opener against James Madison.

Alston came to WVU from Copiah-Lincoln Community College where he racked up 78 tackles, seven sacks and 15 tackles for loss after transferring in from East Carolina. A very talented pass rusher, he barely got to show what he is capable of but showed flashes of star potential in his brief time on the field.

No matter who earns the starting role, Pooler and Alston should both contribute in big ways under Jordan Lesley’s defensive line rotation.

Free Safety: Kerry Martin (So.) vs. Noah Guzman (Jr.)

The free safety position is vacated by a stellar player in Josh Norwood but West Virginia has a number of options to replace him. A pair of experienced players will compete for this spot but both should play considerable snaps in 2020.

No one knew what Kerry Martin would bring as a freshman in the secondary after spending his high school career as a dual-threat quarterback. He played at a much higher level than anyone outside the program could have expected.

With Norwood in and out of the lineup due to injuries and targeting penalties, Martin played in all 12 games and started four of them. In all, he put together 50 tackles and five pass breakups for a very strong true freshman season.

Conversely, it took Noah Guzman a little while to get going after being a late addition in the recruiting process. He ultimately appeared in nine games total, making one start against Baylor where he shined with 12 tackles.

Overall, he finished with 24 tackles, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery. He may be a candidate to play all over the secondary thanks to his versatility rather than play one single position.

Should Arizona transfer Scottie Young be eligible for the 2020 season, he could be a candidate to see snaps at free safety as well.

Left Cornerback: Tae Mayo (R-Fr.) vs. Dreshun Miller (R-Jr.) vs. Alonzo Addae (R-Sr.) vs. Jackie Matthews (Jr.) vs. Jairo Faverus (Fr.)

This is a position where the competition is going to be the most broad and arguably the most important. Following the graduation of Hakeem Bailey and Keith Washington, WVU needs to fill both corner spots but position coach Jahmile Addae has made it clear that sophomore Nicktroy Fortune is ticketed for one of the two spots.

That leaves one position for the other five scholarship corners on the roster.

The most experienced of this group, at least in a Mountaineer uniform is redshirt freshman Tae Mayo who appeared in just two games while maintaining his redshirt season. Pressed into action due to a lack of depth at the position, he received a trial by fire at Oklahoma and could have the advantage having been in the program for a full year now.

Another corner who has been in the program as long as Mayo is Dreshun Miller but he has yet to suit up for the Mountaineers. A lower body injury cost the junior college transfer the entire season after he flipped to West Virginia from LSU.

Highly touted out of Eastern Arizona College, he could be a breakout candidate in 2020.

Now to a more traditional transfer, Alonzo Addae will play his final season of college football at WVU after transferring in from New Hampshire and sitting out last season. The cousin of the aforementioned coach Addae appeared in 24 career games with 61 total tackles and 12 pass breakups in two seasons.

While he moved around the secondary in the past, he has settled in at cornerback in Morgantown and should compete for the starting job.

The final two competitors for this job are both newcomers, starting with junior college transfer Jackie Matthews. A high school quarterback, Matthews converted to defensive back at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College after winning a high school state championship under head coach and former Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix, the father of current Tigers signal caller Bo Nix.

Against WVU pipeline school Lackawanna College, he pulled down the game-sealing interception in the end zone to clinch the junior college national championship in the final game of his sophomore season.

That capped off a final JUCO season in which he tallied 52 tackles, six picks, and a pair of forced fumbles. His prior production gives the impression he could contribute as early as this season.

The final and most mysterious candidate for the last starting cornerback position is Jairo Faverus, the incoming freshman from the Netherlands. Despite being a freshman, Faverus is already 20 years old and comes in with the size to compete right away.

The son of an accomplished Muay Thai fighter, the newcomer chose West Virginia over the likes of Georgia Tech, Maryland, Minnesota, and Penn State. While little is known about what he will bring to the table, Faverus was enrolled in time for spring practice and earned praise for his college readiness during the two days of drills the Mountaineers were able to hold.