We’re taking a closer look this month at 10 Big 12 players who have been on the spot this spring. Some are coming back from injury or in the middle of a key position battle. Others have a lot to prove after their 2016 season did not meet expectations. For these guys, this offseason is a big deal.
Player on the spot: West Virginia CB Elijah Battle
The Big 12 exposes a weakness at cornerback more quickly perhaps than at any other position.
A year ago, West Virginia faced a rebuild at corner and came up huge with a trio of seniors, led by All-Big 12 pick Rasul Douglas. He led the league with eight interceptions and was named by ESPN.com as the Big 12 defensive player of the year.
The Mountaineers don’t expect the same from Battle, a three-game starter last year as a newcomer. But he’s the leading candidate, after the spring game last week in Morgantown, to step into Douglas’ former role as the top defender in coverage.
Opposite Douglas in the secondary, Battle, a 5-foot-11, 189-pound senior, earned starts last season against Texas Tech, TCU and Oklahoma State. He contributed 23 tackles and one pass breakup.
The Mountaineers need more in 2017. With the right finish to his offseason, Battle may help direct a surge in the secondary similar to what WVU experienced a year ago -- with Douglas, Antonio Crawford and Maurice Fleming all getting to West Virginia via the transfer route.
Battle arrived last year out of Dodge City (Kansas) Community College. Mike Daniels played as a reserve last year after transferring from Miami. And Corey Winfield is set to land next month at WVU as a graduate transfer with two seasons of starting work at Syracuse.
Juco transfer Hakeem Bailey also enjoyed a nice spring.
So the cupboard remains stocked after West Virginia lost three of its top four cornerbacks from a year ago. But it will need multiple defenders to step up against the prolific quarterbacks and wide receivers of the Big 12.
The task starts with Battle.