Coaches ponder dilemma at safety spots
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The last time Terence Garvin was forced out of West Virginia's defensive lineup, Travis Bell was the guy who got a lot of playing time.
This time, when the Mountaineers face Clemson in Wednesday night's Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium, it figures to be Wes Tonkery and Shaq Petteway.
Why? Well, it's just a matter of fitting the pieces together.
Bell didn't replace Garvin at the spur safety when Garvin missed the Cincinnati game because of a concussion. He actually stepped in at free safety. Free safety Eain Smith moved to spur.
"I didn't like it,'' safeties coach Steve Dunlap said. "We ended up moving Travis to spur anyway after the first quarter because of what they were doing.''
Now Bell is playing behind Darwin Cook at the bandit safety. Tonkery and Petteway are the backups to Garvin at the spur. So they'll both get a chance against Clemson as Garvin sits out with a knee injury. The idea is to minimize the shifting of players from one position to another.
"It's always a quandary. You don't know,'' Dunlap said. "If you shuffle things too many times you create a weakness at two positions. We want to minimize the moves and replace Terence Garvin and leave Cook where he played the entire season.''
As for who starts, Tonkery or Petteway, Dunlap isn't saying because he doesn't know.
"You'll see it when we walk out,'' Dunlap said. "I don't know. One day I like one better and the next day another one. I don't know. They're both inexperienced players. They're both young. I alternate them each day.''
Tonkery is a redshirt freshman from Bridgeport and Petteway a true freshman from Steubenville, Ohio. Petteway played in 11 games this season, mostly on special teams, and saw some action in that Cincinnati game when Bell was injured. Tonkery has played eight games, almost exclusively on special teams.
"I think I'm more ready to play now,'' Petteway said. "The Cincinnati game was more like just being thrown in there. I was injured the week before and didn't play because I had a concussion. Now I'll be more prepared knowing I have a chance to play instead of just being thrown in.''
Petteway and Tonkery are two distinctly different types of players, even though both are about the same size at roughly 6-foot or 6-1 and about 200 pounds. Dunlap likes Petteway's physical play coming from a high school background as a linebacker.
"He's a more physical player,'' Dunlap said. "Tonkery's a smarter player and makes less mistakes because he's been around an extra year.''
Still, Petteway has probably seen more meaningful action on defense as opposed to special teams. The Cincinnati game was a pressure-packed as any the Mountaineers played and Petteway was a part of it. When Tonkery takes the field, it will really be the first time he's played anything other than special teams at a point in a game when it matters.
And that's not lost on Tonkery.
"It's an incredible feeling, something I haven't felt all year,'' Tonkery said. "The first game you play happens to be the Orange Bowl.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.