Malachi Ruffin

WVU defensive back Malachi Ruffin (14) and safety Hershey McLaurin (13) tackle Kansas University running Devan Neal during a game Sept. 10, 2022 at Milan Puskar Stadium.

MORGANTOWN — The other day, in the midst of his discourse on how West Virginia was trying to reconstruct its defense — again — coordinator Jordan Lesley was addressed with a question that intimated that a defensive back was fast, as if that was a cure-all to the pass defense problems the Mountaineers had last season.

Jordan was about to let that slip by for, in this analytic-crazed world of ours we take metrics as an indication of success or failure when, in truth, it is only a part of it.

“Speed doesn’t hurt,” Lesley said. “There may be guys who run 10.3, but they can’t change direction; it’ll snap their leg in half if a guy tries to make them miss.”

See speed alone is no better than peanut butter without jelly. There’s more to the equation than just what the stopwatch says.

“There’s track fast and there’s football fast,” Lesley said.

The question isn’t who can get from here to there in the quickest time, not when there’s so much more involved.

It’s like taking a sprinter and having him run a hurdles race against a slower hurdler who knows and is capable of handling the hurdles.

“No, speed doesn’t hurt,” Lesley went on, “but to me it’s overall athleticism. Being able to bend, to play with vision, to react to the ball, to change directions. Those are very simple things.”

Simple things that combine into a very complex skill, that of defensive back.

At present the Mountaineers are in search of pass defenders. Pronto. At any secondary position, after finishing 111th out of 131 teams last year in passing yards allowed at 262.7 per game.

A year ago they felt at cornerback they had a prize in Charles Woods, who went and got hurt early, tried to come back and eventually headed into the portal, taking his preseason All-Big 12 rating with him.

That allowed younger players to play, but as noted, you aren’t a player just because you can light up a stopwatch or do drills well.

You have to be able to anticipate. You have to be able to read the eyes of the receiver. You have to be a student of film ... not Bogie and Bacall, but guys wearing Oklahoma State or Texas Tech uniforms. The good ones are as savvy as they are fast, and quick as they are long.

They are tough and they like to live life on the edge, as cornerbacks have to do.

“Experience is the best teacher,” Lesley said. “Those reps last year — even though they didn’t look like anyone wanted them to look — are valuable. You never learn until you are in the game. You go back to the film room and watch those cut-ups and the film of those reps and try to improve on that. It can’t hurt.”

As WVU came into the spring they were looking at Andrew Wilson-Lamp and Malachi Ruffin on one side and Montre Miller and Jacolby Spells on the other at the corners and had Aubrey Burks, a good cover at safety, returning.

Lamp played 11 games last year and showed promise, starting the Oklahoma State game at the end of the season. Miller is a transfer from Kent State, one of two transfers that may fit into the secondary well with Keyshawn Cobb, a transfer from Buffalo.

“They can find the ball,” Lesley said of those two transfers, again another skill to go with speed. “They got a nose for the ball, can play the ball and that was the No. 1 evaluation for me going into the transfer market. I want to see what guys do when the ball is in the air.”

Ruffin is back at cornerback after starting five times last year while Spells played in nine games and had extended time on the field against Baylor and Texas Tech.

Spells is the perfect example of what Lesley was talking about. He came out of high school as a 10.8 sprinter who is now trying to bring his other skills up to the speed that, as Lesley puts it, “can’t hurt.”

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