Ferns Back in the Mix at Linebacker for Mountaineers

Gibson is looking for better tackling

MORGANTOWN — The roller coaster ride for St. Clairsville High School graduate Brendan Ferns appears to be back on the tracks for West Virginia University and defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.

“Really good,” Gibson explained when asked about Ferns. “We are in shorts and a T-shirt right now so until we get that physical banging and see how he holds up. Just talking to him, he feels really good right now. Hopefully, we can keep him healthy because he can be a big part of our defense.”

Ferns, who missed the entire 2016 season while recovering from a knee injury suffered in spring drills, was seen by the veteran defensive coordinator as a strong contributor to last season’s unit following spring and preseason camp.

And, that appeared to be the case until redshirt sophomore suffered a shoulder injury while covering a kickoff against Kansas which sent him back on the injured reserve list in need of surgery.

Up to that point, the promising linebacker had amassed 10 tackles in WVU’s first three contests — nine of them solo — and appeared as though he might be the number one replacement for then-senior Al-Rasheed Benton.

Ferns, the AP All-Ohio Division IV Defensive Player of the Year in 2015, again appears as though he will be in the mix as Gibson looks to replace Benton, who led the team with 110 tackles (78 solo).

“He can play anywhere,” Gibson said. “He can play Mike, he can play Sam, if he can beat somebody out then good for him. He will have every opportunity to do that.”

Providing the biggest challenge for Ferns will be former Bridgeport (WV) standout Dylan Tonkery, who played in all 13 games a year ago and collected 43 tackles (33 solo), with 6.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and a fumble recovery.

“He’s a smart, tough kid,” Gibson said about Tonkery. “Understands the scheme. This kid has the potential to start at all three linebacker spots within 12 months. I like where he is at, I just think that is going to be his natural position and let him go get the football. With him and (redshirt junior linebacker) David (Long Jr.) I feel really good about those two. We need to find one more guy at Sam and then we need to start building our depth.”

With standout linebacker David Long Jr. slated to miss the spring while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery — as will defensive lineman Lamont McDougle — Ferns will receive a lion’s share of the snaps during WVU’s 15 practices.

In fact, Ferns and Tonkery will get plenty of looks at all three linebacking spots in WVU’s 3-3-5 alignment.

Others in the mix for a spot on the Mountaineers’ three-deep chart will be redshirt sophomore Zach Sandwisch, juniors Adam Hensley and Quondarius Qualls and Parkersburg South graduate Luke Williams — a redshirt sophomore.

“Technique is big right now,” Gibson said. “Overall, for the defense what we need to do is tackle better. We’re not going to do as much as we have done in the past as far as tackling, but we can still work techniques and different things, footwork and just learning how to tackle with no pads on. That’s been a really big emphasis for us in the offseason. Studying film and watching what our biggest problem was and it all comes down to that. A lot of guys on the ground too much, not wrapping up. Just different things that we studied. We need to get that fixed immediately.”

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