In West Virginia’s 3-3-5 defense, the safety position is key, as the defense has three safeties on the field at all times.
In 2009, West Virginia rotated five safeties throughout the course of the game, and they returned three of them.
The biggest, and most important safety, is free safety Robert Sands.
Sands is a junior and had a breakout season, earning first team all-Big East honors. He led the Big East in passes defended (13) and tied for the lead in interceptions, with five.
After being benched early in the season, he started to play to his potential. Three of his interceptions came after he was benched, and became a playmaker on the defense. At 6'5", he is tall for a safety, and has the potential to leave early for the NFL if he continues his play from the second half of the season. He will be entering his third season as a starter for the Mountaineers.
The next two safety positions are the spur and bandit safeties. In West Virginia’s 3-3-5 scheme, the bandit is more of a true safety, while the spur more of a hybrid linebacker-safety position.
After starting for two years at the spur safety position, senior Sidney Glover will move to the bandit safety position.
Glover has experience as he has played since his freshman year. His biggest downfall, however, are his injuries. While his injuries have not been major, he has missed at least one game the past two seasons. If he can stay healthy, he should have the best season of his career.
The final safety spot will likely go to sophomore Terence Garvin.
As a freshman, he saw action in 10 games, and played on special teams. Garvin is projected to start at the spur safety, taking over for Glover. As the spur safety, he will play the closest to the line of scrimmage out of the three safety spots, and should be a factor in the success of West Virginia’s run defense.
With West Virginia playing three safeties most of the time, expect at least two more players to factor in the rotation.
The first is junior Eain Smith, who plays free safety.
Smith has played extensively since his freshman year, even if he does not start. He has rotated at the free safety position with Sands the past two seasons, though he did not get as much playing time the second half of the season with Sands playing as great as he did. Smith brings solid depth and experience to the Mountaineers safety corps.
A second player who should earn a spot in the rotation is red-shirt freshman Darwin Cook.
Cook blitzed almost extensively in high school, tallying 20 sacks from his safety position his senior year of high school. He will back-up Glover and should see most of his playing time in passing downs, where he will rush the quarterback.
One incoming freshman who could make an impact when fall camp arrives is Travis Bell.
He tallied over 10 interceptions his senior season, and could push for playing time in the fall. He is projected as a free safety.
West Virginia’s defense is dependent on having several safeties that can start and play significant time. With three key returning players, the safety corps has a mix of experience and young talent that combined with the rest of the defense should make the Mountaineers defense one of the top units in the country.