MORGANTOWN -Fans attending West Virginia University's season-opening home encounter with Marshall University might want to make sure they pick up a program when they enter Milan Puskar Stadium for the 3:30 p.m. contest on Sunday, Aug. 4.
With so many faces expected to be in so many places, especially on defense, it may take some time for the Mountaineer faithful to get used to all of them.
One face that will be familiar, however, will be that of junior defensive back Keith Tandy. The Mountaineers' leader in interceptions (6) the 200-pound Kentucky native will be the glue that will be expected to hold together a new-look secondary for the old gold and blue.
"We are getting back to the fundamentals," explained Tandy. "We feel like the talent is here to be as good as last year's defense, but everybody needs to be on the same page and that takes time and practice."
Tandy and junior Terence Garvin are the lone returnees in the secondary in WVU's unique 3-3-5 alignment. Garvin returns as the team's spur after leading WVU in tackles with 76, including 41 solo, 4 tackles for loss and four pass breakups while Tandy was fifth on the unit with 57 stops-38 solo - and has 11 pass breakups.
The remainder of the unit appears to still be a work-in-progress despite senior Eain Smith, junior Pat Miller and sophomore Darwin Cook moving to the top of the depth chart following spring drills.
"We have a lot of young guys and they are really flying to the football," said Tandy. "They are looking really good in practice, but we are going to have to wait and see which ones step up on game days."
Smith contributed 23 tackles and returned an interception 38 yards while Miller added 20 stops and four pass breakups to a defensive unit that led the Big East, and was ranked No. 2 nationally, in rushing and scoring defense and allowed only 166. passing yards per game (No. 11 in the country).
"Are they as good as the 1996 defense? Not even close," explained assistant coach Steve Dunlap. "We have athletes out there and we are real deep in places where we weren't last year, but we also have a bunch of young guys out there."
Just how much the unit improves over the next two weeks and how its members handle themselves in the opener against the Thundering Herd, as well as early contests with Norfolk State and at Maryland, will go a long way on determining the success of the secondary in 2011.
"I was a part of a team that had the best defense in the country," continued Dunlap. "I think we lost seven off of that team. We had a lot of kids who thought they were ready to play, but it doesn't work that way, you have to earn your stripes every day."
Which is what Tandy and his teammates are doing in camp right now.
"The coaches we have have been here for awhile and they know how to prepare us," said Tandy. "What we are trying to do are the things that made us successful last year."