Size Matters for Mountaineers’ Defensive Front

MORGANTOWN, West Virginia — For those of you old enough to remember, Wendy used to do commercials with an old white-haired lady who would stop at the drive-thru window and ask: “Where’s the beef?”

For the past two years, it’s a question West Virginia University football fans have been asking about the Mountaineers’ defensive line: “Where’s the beef?”

West Virginia’s defensive lines have always been considered among the smallest in the Big 12, probably more closely resembling the sizes you’d see in non-Power 5 programs. but not always.

There have been a few games recently when the big guys from West Virginia needed bigger cabos.

“Our system is designed for our D-line to be productive, and we’ve had success with smaller guys, and I think there’s still room for that,” the West Virginia coach said. Neal Brown said earlier this week, “but we haven’t had as much success with the teams that are bigger and are at their best to run football in the last couple of years.”

This became apparent to Brown a few years ago against Texas when the much larger Longhorns controlled the line of scrimmage and won the game in the end.

“It became very clear that we needed to get bigger and we needed to get more multiples,” Brown admitted. “We couldn’t be a group that just lined up and played games and moved our front. We had to have the ability to play a real front four and play against some of these teams that come into 12 personal.”

When AJ Jackson was hired last year to coach West Virginia’s defensive line, he came here with the idea of ​​having to come up with a bunch of different passing drills to prepare his guys for air raid offenses. they would face in the Big 12. However, as he began to study the teams the Mountaineers would face, he realized that about half of them were now using sets with a personal most important.

In other words, big boy football.

West Virginia faced him in the bowling game against Minnesota, they’re going to face him in the August season opener at Heinz Field against Pitt, and they’re going to see him more frequently in the Big 12 this fall.

defensive coordinator Jordan Lesly said Thursday that West Virginia needs to recruit taller body types to match teams on its future schedules.

“You try to match your staff as you see them in your schedules and pay a little more attention to schedules along the way as we go through coaching changes, especially within your league,” did he declare. “It allows you to plan a bit with maybe what you need.”

For Lesley, it is important to specify the size.

“What do you define as big? Is it just weight or is it length and body in general?” he said. “When we’re recruiting, what we want to try and do is scale a bit and have a bit of everything in terms of their skill set. When it comes to body types, I often think length matters a lot more. than just the total weight.”

What West Virginia has had in abundance lately is smaller, nimble, quicker defensive linemen who were really good at penetrating gaps and disrupting offenses. What he lacked were those big, strong, long space eaters who could occupy the blockers and get a consistent push down the middle.

The Mountaineers simply didn’t have those types of players when Brown arrived here, and his quest to develop them hit a snag in 2020 when COVID-19 shut down the country. The virus was a major setback for any development programs that needed time to develop their players.

Another hiccup came last February for WVU when a COVID outbreak within the team ended the final two weeks of winter strength training. These were significant disturbances that are only really corrected now.

explains Lesley.

“If you get players ready to go, that’s great, but the majority of our guys won’t. It takes time and investment in the offseason,” he noted. “It takes time for the player to do it, and then there’s the training aspect. If they have coaches taking on new jobs every 14 months, it’s quite difficult to develop anybody.”

Lesley has been here the whole time, Jackson has now been in place for 15 months working with his guys and Michael JosephThe strength and conditioning staff again went through a full 12 month training cycle to make them bigger, stronger and faster.

As a result, West Virginia has a much bigger group of defensive linemen who are more like the guys from Texas and Oklahoma who run there every year. Jordan Jefferson and Sean Martin are two body types that West Virginia hasn’t really had up front since maybe Don Nehlen was coaching the Mountaineers in the late 1990s when by Jalen Thornton dad, John, was an outstanding player.

Lesley said Jefferson and Martin are big and strong enough to play multiple positions up front, which adds even more value and depth to the defensive roster.

Proven seniors Pictures of Dante and Taijh Alston are now adult men. Freshman in red shirt Hammond Russell IV is another great guy. Even bandits Lanell Carr and Jared Bartletare all adults.

“I think when you see our first band, we look like we’re in the game,” Brown admitted. “We have a certain size. Jordan Jefferson is a guy entering his fourth year in the program and he is ready to play at a high level. He did so at the end of last year. He plays the same position as (consensus All-American) Darius Stills and he can be as good a player as Darius, but he does it in a whole different way.”

This is because Jefferson is 20-25 pounds heavier and 3-4 inches taller than Darius. Lesley said the pause button has now been removed for guys like Carr and Martin, whose development has been somewhat delayed due to multiple COVID disruptions.

“We were lucky to have a good season defensively (in 2020) and we had some good plays, but those plays in their first and second years… you really just took a break from their development,” Lesley explained. . “Guys coming into their first year, you’ve never really rushed off and now that we’re back to a normal cycle, you’re starting to see that.”

The net of having a full development cycle is much improved defensive line depth, with West Virginia possessing strong and promising young players such as Thornton, Bull Simmons, Edward Vesterinen, Brayden Dudley and transfer from Cincinnati Zeiqui Lawtona South Charleston resident who received consistent praise from Brown throughout the spring.

Lawton is likely similar to Darius Stills in terms of body type and athleticism, which gives Lesley and Jackson the variety and versatility they crave from their defensive linemen.

“There may be a lack of talent, but the quality of your depth is better when you have that full cycle or two cycles. In the environment we’re in right now, it’s even more difficult than ever before,” Lesley concluded.

Sure, but at the bare minimum, West Virginia has finally found the beef in some of its big players up front.

You can watch them in person on Saturday afternoon when the Mountaineers wrap up their spring work inside Milan’s Puskar Stadium with the annual Gold-Blue game. The two teams have been split evenly and will be coached by Jackson and the running backs coach Chad Scott.

Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. with TV coverage on the Big 12 Now platform on ESPN+. Andrew Caridi will handle play-by-play duties, Dale Wolfley will provide analysis and Amanda Mazey will be the on-site reporter.

Additional television coverage will begin with a Mountaineer GameDay Gold-Blue pre-game special at noon on all local Nexstar affiliates.

The team of veteran radio announcers from Tony Cardi (game by game), Dwight Wallace (analysis) and Jed Drenning (sideline) will handle radio coverage on the Mountaineer Sports Network, presented by Learfield.

Doors open at noon and tickets are available for $10 each. A portion of the proceeds from the Gold-Blue game will once again benefit WVU Medicine Children’s. Since 1984, Mountaineers have donated more than $778,000 to WVU Medicine Children’s.

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