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West Virginia Preview 2006 - Defense
West Virginia Mountaineers
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 1, 2006


West Virginia Mountaineers Preview 2006 - WV Defense

What you need to know ... The defense didn't get nearly the credit the offense received last season, but it was the better of the two finishing 15th in the nation in total D (as opposed to the offense, which finished 50th), and 13th in scoring defense. The only worry is in the secondary where almost everyone needs to be replaced. Eric Wicks is a strong safety to build around, but it's asking a lot to replace last year's all-star group. The front six in the 3-3-5 alignment should be tremendous with one of the Big East's best linebacking corps and enough depth to make wholesale changes.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Kevin McLee, 78
Sacks: Keilen Dykes, 5
Interceptions: Several with 1

Star of the defense: Senior LB Kevin McLee
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior CBs Antonio Lewis and Larry Williams
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Marc Magro
Best pro prospect: McLee
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McLee, 2) SS Eric Wicks, 3) LB Jay Henry
Strength of the defense: Depth on the front six, middle linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Secondary experience

Defensive Line
The line should grow into one of the strengths of the defense with size and depth. The one thing missing is a sure-thing pure pass rusher, although Johnny Dingle is expected to become one. There's good experience despite the loss of all-star Ernest Hunter, and there should be enough quality depth to do come up with several different options.
The key to the unit: Get in the backfield more. That's mostly the job of the back eight to take care of, but this group needs to hit more quarterbacks.

Defensive Line Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters
- DE Johnny Dingle, Jr. - 13 tackles, 3 sacks, 3.5 TFL
A pure pass rusher who didn't produce all that much last year, the 255-pound junior will get the first look on the outside after playing behind Craig Wilson last year. He has the speed to be the team's sack leader now that the full-time job is his.

- NT Pat Liebeg, Jr. - 14 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL
Coming back from a knee injury, Liebeg became a nice backup behind Ernest Hunter last season. He's a strong 270 pounds who has grown into a terror in the weight room. He's one of the team's stronger players and should be a rock on the nose.

- DT Keilen Dykes, Jr. - 29 tackles, 5 sacks, 8 TFL
Back for yet another year as a starter, Dykes has been steady, but hasn't lived up to his potential. He's 6-4, 290 pounds and athletic enough to be a dominant interior pass rusher. Consistency is the key needing to be the type of lineman who demands double teams.

Top Backups
- NT Craig Wilson, Sr. - 31 tackles, 1 sack, 4 TFL
Wilson has moved around on the line spending most of his time on the end last season. While he could certainly move back to the end, he saw most of his time at nose tackle this spring providing more quickness up front. The 260-pound senior isn't a pass rusher, but he's active.
- DE Warren Young, Sr. - 22 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 TFL
More of a tackle than an end at 295 pounds, Young is versatile enough to play anywhere on the line. He'll start off being used occasionally on running downs to add more bulk up front replacing the 255-pound Johnny Dingle, but he'll be moved around when needed.
- DT Doug Slavonic, Soph. - 4 tackles
At 6-8 and 260 pounds, Slavonic should be a tough tackle to throw over. While he'll still need to do some work to be a consistent, every down tackle, his sheer size makes him too interesting not to see more time behind Keilen Dykes.

Linebackers
This group should be really, really good. Kevin McLee is a big weakside linebacker who should be one of the Big East's best all-around defenders, while Jay Henry and Marc Margo can each star in the middle. The question is on the strongside where Bobby Hathaway and Reed Williams have to replace Jeff Noechel. There are plenty of good backups and several nice young prospects waiting in the wings.
The key to the unit: Get everyone on the field. If this isn't the Big East's deepest linebacking corps, it's number two. With all the talent, there's no reason not to form a strong rotation.
Linebacker Rating: 8

Projected Starters
- Kevin "Boo" McLee, Sr. - 78 tackles, 2 sacks, 7 TFL, 1 interception, 5 broken up passes, 2 fumble recoveries
McLee needed to come through on the outside last year, and he did in a big way finishing second on the team in tackles on the way to All-Big East honors. He's a huge weakside linebacker at 255 pounds who's surprisingly good against the pass. When turned loose, he a can be a great pass rusher with good closing speed. Now he should be a fringe All-America candidate.

- Jay Henry, Sr. - 62 tackles, 2 sacks, 5.5 TFL, 4 forced fumbles
The Academic All-American certainly knows what he's doing as the quarterback of the front seven and has grown into a strong leader. He's a huge hitter able to play anywhere in the linebacking corps and on special teams. With the emergence of Marc Magro, Henry might see a little bit of time on the outside to get everyone on the field.

- Bobby Hathaway, Jr. - 27 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 broken up pass
A nice reserve last season, Hathaway appears ready to start on the strongside. He's a smart defender who should grow into a strong player against the run cleaning up when teams run away from Kevin McLee and Jay Henry.

Top Backups
- Marc Magro, Jr. - 41 tackles, 3 sacks, 6 TFL, 2 forced fumbles
While Jay Henry might be the heart-and-soul leader of the defense, it wouldn't be a shock if Magro took over the starting job in the middle with bigger size at 240 pounds and tremendous strength. There needs to be a spot somewhere for him on the field, but he'll likely be a key backup early on.
- Mortty Ivy, Soph. - 44 tackles, 2 TFL, 5 broken up passes, 2 fumble recoveries
The star high school quarterback and scout team defender turned in a whale of a season finishing seventh on the team in tackles even as a backup. All set to be a top player in the rotation this year, he hurt his knee this spring and is questionable at best for fall practice. He's fast, athletic and tough, but he needs to get healthy.
- Reed Williams, Soph. - 5 tackles
Purely a special teamer last year and seeing a little bit of garbage time on defense. He's a bigger option than Bobby Hathaway on the strongside with the athleticism to be a dangerous pass rusher.
- Barry Wright, Sr.
The Florida State transfer could quickly find his way into a big role on the defense. He's far more talented than the backup coming out of spring ball, Reed Williams, with the athleticism to be a difference maker. He's 6-2 and 220 pounds whith speed, speed and more speed. 


Defensive Backs
The secondary needs to do some patching up after losing top corners Anthony Mims and Dee McCann and first team All-Big East safeties Jahmile Addae and Mike Lorello. Safety Eric Wicks is an all-star who should be one of the team's top tacklers. There's a lot of practice experience among the new starters, but it could be a little while before everything starts to come together. Forget about any experienced depth.
The key to the unit: Pick off passes. Last year's secondary wasn't exactly air tight, but it took away 17 interceptions and made up for bad plays by coming up with big ones later on. The mistakes have to even out with the positives.
Secondary Rating: 6.5

Projected Starters
- CB Antonio Lewis, Jr. - 23 tackles, 4 broken up passes, 2 TFL, 2 sacks, 
Lewis has mostly been known for being an all-star kick returner, but the 5-10, 190-pound junior should do even more as a defender. He has great speed and is a decent tackler. Now he has to make more big plays when the ball is in the air.

- SS Eric Wicks, Sr. - 61 tackles, 1 interception, 3 broken up passes, 3 sacks, 6.5 TFL, 4 forced fumbles
Back at his starting spot, Wicks is a huge hitter and has a knack for coming up with game-changing plays. The second-team All-Big East selection only picked off one pass, but he returned it for a 31-yard touchdown against Syracuse. The team's fifth leading tackler should be even more consistent and more of a leader.

- FS Abraham Jones, Sr. - 14 tackles, 1 interception
Mostly a big special teamer so far, Jones has nice range with cornerback speed and 6-1, 190-pound size. Now he has to replace all-star Jahmile Addae and be the same sort of playmaker. He's one of the team's best all-around athletes.

- BS Ridwan Malik, Jr. - 21 tackles, 3 TFL
Malik is a great hitter with a smart, physical style of play. He might not be Mike Lorello and might not lead the team in tackles, but he'll come up with a few highlight reel hits and should produce a few turnovers.

- CB Larry Williams, Jr. - 4 tackles, 1 interception

Mostly a special teamer so far, Williams has good size and tremendous speed. He was groomed last year to be ready to take over this season, and he has all the tools to grow into the job even though he'll be battling with Vaughn Rivers for the starting spot until fall.

Top Backups

- FS Quinton Andrews, RFr.
It's just a question of time before he takes over the free safety spot. The 5-11, 210-pound Andrews hits like a ton of bricks and has enough athleticism and talent to be a major playmaker right off the bat. Abraham Jones isn't a lock for the job.

- CB Vaughn Rivers, Jr. - 2 tackles, 6 catches, 38 yds
One of the team's top return men, Rivers will be in the hunt for a starting corner job after spending last year at receiver. He has seen a little bit of time on the defensive side over the years and has the quickness and overall experience to step in and be decent.
- SS John Holmes, Soph. - 1 tackles
An interesting prospect behind Eric Wicks, Holmes is a former linebacker with good speed and big-time hitting ability. He's 225 pounds, fast, and tough.
- CB Kent Richardson, RFr.
He'll eventually take over one of the starting jobs. He's one of the team's fastest players and has enough talent to see time right away even though he could still use a little more polish.
- BS Akeem Jackson, Sr. - 4 tackles
Purely a special teamer so far, Jackson has been around long enough to finally start to make an impact on defense backing up Ridwan Malik at boundary safety. While he's a solid tackler, his cover skills are mediocre.

Special Teams
The kickers are young, but they should be among the most talented in the nation. Next year they could be one of the team's biggest strengths. Vaughn Rivers will handle most of the return game after averaging 12.2 yards per punt return and 23.9 yards per kick return, but the slightly more dangerous Antonio Lewis will also get his share of tries.

The key to the unit: The young kickers have to live up to their immense talent as soon as possible.
Special Teams Rating: 8

Projected Starters
- PK Pat McAfee, Soph. - 11-18 FGs, 48-49 extra points
McAfee has a great leg and is fantastic on kickoffs. He struggled a little bit too much on his consistency on field goals last season failing to show off enough of his range missing four kicks from beyond 40. An talent, experienced sophomore, he should be steadier.
- P Scott Kozlowski, RFr.
Phil Brady was nice and steady, but he wasn't anywhere near the player Kozlowski is expected to be. Considered to be the nation's number one punting prospect a few years ago, Kozlowski has a huge leg averaging 46.3 yards per game as a high school senior.

Related Stories
West Virginia Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 1, 2006
West Virginia Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 1, 2006
West Virginia Preview 2006
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 1, 2006








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