2008 West Virginia Preview - Defense
West Virginia S Quinton Andrews
CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - West Virginia Mountaineer Defense
Preview 2008 - Defense
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What you need to know:
Coordinator Jeff Casteel was retained by Bill Stewart, which was
great news considering how well the Mountaineers performed in
2007. The defense was air-tight in all facets, allowing just
300 yards and 18 points a game, while finishing ninth nationally
in turnover margin. Maintaining that level of play, however, is
about to get much tougher. Even without Marc Magro, the
linebackers will be fine, but the defensive line must be rebuilt
and there’s a serious depth issue in the secondary. While
Casteel will continue to lean on undersized athletes that fly to
the ball out of the 3-3-5 stack, he’s going to need help from a
bunch of newcomers and underclassmen.
Tackles: Reed Williams,
Mortty Ivy, 6
Interceptions: Several with 1
Star of the
Senior LB Reed Williams
Watch Out For…
Lazear. Whether he was on the field or away from it, Lazear proved to
be a powder-keg as a teenager. Now a little older, the Mountaineers are
hoping he’s matured from the kid that pled guilty to conspiracy to
commit robbery of a Maryland Smoothie King. If he has his act together,
Lazear could eventually be a special player in Morgantown.
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore NT Chris Neild
Best pro prospect: Senior LB Mortty Ivy
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Williams 2) Ivy 3)
Sophomore DT Scooter Berry
Strength of the defense: The linebackers
Weakness of the defense: Inexperience in the secondary
Projected Starters: The question marks on the
Mountaineer defense are most pronounced along a defensive line
that parts ways with NT Keilen Dykes and DE Johnny Dingle.
Although just a sophomore, the new anchor of the unit will be
6-2, 285-pound DT Scooter Berry, a surprise Freshman
All-American who’s accepting more of a leadership role. Quick
off the snap and a lineman that plays with good pad level, he
had 27 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and three fumble
At the nose, sophomore Chris Neild is making the move up
from the second team after backing up Dykes and making 13
tackles in 11 games. Even at 6-3 and 305 pounds, he’s a nimble
athlete with the quick feet and good balance to develop into a
force on the inside for West Virginia.
Junior Zac Cooper has the early edge to start at
defensive end, but to remain in the lead, he’ll need to hold off
an impressive collection of newcomers and first-time players. A
6-3, 225-pound converted linebacker, he was moved to defensive
line in order to make better use of his speed and pass rushing
Projected Top Reserves: Lurking close behind
Cooper at end are redshirt freshman Julian Miller and
junior college transfer Larry Ford. A rangy, 6-5,
220-pounder, Miller showed the athletic ability and explosion
around the edge to earn defensive Scout Team Player of the Year
honors. He needs to adds some bulk, but flashes enough upside
to at least be a regular part of the rotation.
Ford is a wider option at 6-4 and 240 pounds, with the ability
to play the run as well as getting pressure on the passer. He
got a ton of offers coming out of Coffeyville (Kans.) Junior
College, choosing West Virginia because of the immediate need
for pass rushers.
Senior Doug Slavonic brings the best combination of size
and experience to the second team tackles. At 6-8 and 260
pounds, he earned his first letter a year ago, making nine
tackles in spot duty. Slated to back up Berry, he’s athletic
enough and has the wingspan to contribute at end if the need
Watch Out For… JUCO transfer DE Tevita Finau.
Although he didn’t take part in spring ball, Finau is expected
to challenge for playing time as soon as he arrives on campus.
One of the program’s top recruits from last February, he has
off-the-charts measurables for a 6-5, 275-pound end. If he has
any pass rushing skills at all, Finau could develop into perfect
tonic for West Virginia’s line woes.
Strength: Upside potential at end. No, neither
Miller, Ford, nor Finau have played a down in Morgantown, but
even if two of them flop, at least one is going to emerge as a
pass-rushing beast on a line that needs someone to collapse the
Weakness: Proven nose tackle. The ‘eers led the
Big East in run defense, in part, because of the play of Dykes
in the center of the line. Neild is no slouch, but he’ll need
to step up his game in order to adequately replace a three-year
starter and First Team All-Big East run stuffer.
Outlook: Although the Mountaineers need a couple
of untested linemen to have big years, things aren’t nearly as
bad as they look on paper. Neild and Berry have bright futures
on the inside, and there are enough touted ends to piece
together a feisty pass rush.
Projected Starters: A couple of returning starters
and quality depth have the Mountaineers feeling real good about
their linebackers heading into the season. Back at middle
linebacker is senior Reed Williams, who’s coming off a
banner season that ended with a team-high 107 tackles, 5.5
tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, and an MVP award in the
Fiesta Bowl. A tough, instinctive player at only 6-2 and 225
pounds, he sheds blockers well and is never far from the ball.
Manning the strongside is senior Mortty Ivy, who broke
through with 89 stops, 11 tackles for loss, six sacks, and three
forced fumbles. One of the unit’s best athletes at 6-3 and 235
pounds, he has tremendous range and the closing speed needed to
wreak havoc on the blitz.
The graduation of Marc Magro and dismissal of Johnny Holmes has
created an opportunity for sophomore J.T. Thomas at
weakside. While only 6-2 and 220 pounds, he plays the game
extremely fast and with outstanding range, and is coming off a
bang-up spring. In his first season of action, he had 19
tackles and three tackles for loss, flashing the athleticism and
field awareness that’s made it impossible to keep him out of the
Projected Top Reserves: As good as the starters
are, the staff is almost as excited about the second unit.
Behind Ivy at strongside is sophomore Pat Lazear. At 6-1
and 235 pounds, he’s a powerful thumper that was heavily
recruited in high school, but is best known for his run-ins with
the law before getting to Morgantown. The way Lazear plays the
game, he has the potential to become a crowd favorite at Milan
Puskar before long.
The Mountaineers were eagerly awaiting the debut of JUCO
transfer Archie Sims, but a hamstring injury never healed
properly, forcing him to redshirt in 2007. While undersized at
6-0 and 215 pounds, he’s a heat-seeking missile that’ll provide
plenty of competition to Thomas at weakside.
Inside, 6-2, 240-pound sophomore Anthony Leonard earned
his first letter on defense and special teams, registering 13
tackles as Williams’ understudy. Quick enough to play any of
the linebacker positions, he’ll be auditioning to top the depth
chart a year from now.
Strength: Depth. Had Sims not gotten injured in
September, the second team would have been comprised entirely of
letterwinners. Even so, the Mountaineers love their linebacker depth
and speed, feeling comfortable that all of the backups are good enough
to get reps at key moments during a game.
Weakness: Outside depth and inexperience. Magro was a
beast for the West Virginia defense, and will be missed. Even with the
upside of Lazear and Sims, their lack of big game experience could shine
through at times this season.
Outlook: Whatever the defensive line misses, the
linebackers will be prepared to clean up. On Williams and Ivy alone,
the Mountaineers can stake claim to having the best set of linebackers
in the Big East. If Thomas plays like he did in March, they could have
one of the dozen or so most productive units in the country.
Projected Starters: Bandit safety Quinton Andrews
is the lone returning starter in a secondary that was ravaged by
graduations. The Mountaineers lose four starters and seven
letterwinners, creating vacancies throughout the five-man defensive
backfield. Now in his junior year, Andrews will be counted on to be the
physical and emotional leader of the unit. The 6-0, 210-pound knockout
puncher is looking to bounce back from a modest second season that
included 51 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and seven passes defended.
One of the primary backups a year ago, junior Boogie Allen is the
frontrunner at free safety. At 6-2 and 195 pounds, he possesses the
blend of size and speed to be valuable against the run and the pass.
Allen had 14 tackles as sophomore, gaining the experience he can call
upon in his first year as a regular.
Rounding out the safeties will be Charles Pugh, a senior that’s
played in 37 games for the Mountaineers. At 6-0 and 200 pounds, he’s an
intense and hard-hitting defender that sometimes lets his emotions get
the best of him. Playing in 12 games, he had 19 tackles and a sack,
giving West Virginia a blitzing option out of the secondary.
The favorites to take over at cornerback are juniors Kent Richardson
and Guesly Dervil. Richardson started a couple of games a
year ago, making nine tackles and lending a hand on special teams. He’s
a fluid 6-1, 195-pounder that the coaches hope will develop into the
Mountaineers best cover corner.
The 6-0, 180-pound Dervil has mostly played in blowouts and on special
teams. He’s got the body and the athleticism to excel at the position,
but needs to continue honing his cover and ball skills to remain ahead
of the competition.
Projected Top Reserves: Battling for jobs at cornerback
are junior Ellis Lankster and sophomore Brantwon Bowser.
While Lankster didn’t quite make a splash as expected in his first
season out of Jones County (Miss.) Junior College, the junior is pushing
for the job at boundary corner. A potential playmaker and shut-down
defender at 5-10 and 190 pounds, he had 16 tackles and a pick after
serving a three-game suspension.
In Bowser, West Virginia has landed one of the nation’s top JUCO corners
for a second straight year. Long and lean at 6-0 and 180 pounds, he
flashed great speed and good one-on-one coverage skills at Phoenix
College, but will need to adapt quickly to the speed at this level in
order to unseat Dervil.
Sophomore Sidney Glover has moved over from spur to back up
Andrews at bandit safety. A tenacious 6-0, 215-pound defender, he won’t
shy away from sticking bigger players, making 18 tackles as a reserve in
his first season. Junior Nate Sowers, a former quarterback, has
found a home on defense. A terrific athlete at 6-2 and 215 pounds, he’s
currently behind Pugh at strong safety.
Watch Out For… more man coverages. Although his secondary
is inexperienced, coordinator Jeff Casteel believes he has the athletes
to handle more one-on-one opportunities, opening things up for the
safeties and linebackers to freelance a little more.
Strength: Athleticism. Can they cover? We’ll see.
However, the Mountaineer secondary is chock full of outstanding athletes
that run well and are built big enough to support in run defense.
Weakness: Experience at corner. While West Virginia will
be fine at safety, it remains to be seen if Richardson, Lankster, and
Dervil can hold up in a conference that’s home to a fair number of tall
and athletic downfield receivers.
Outlook: The Mountaineers will struggle to prevent the big
play against the better quarterbacks on the schedule. Wasn’t it just
two years ago that West Virginia was home to the Big East’s most
generous secondary? The unit improved dramatically last year because it
was loaded with seasoned vets and the pass rush was among the best in
the country. Now that both the defensive line and the secondary are
being retooled, West Virginia will be vulnerable against the likes of
Cody Hawkins, Hunter Cantwell, Mike Teel, and Matt Grothe.
Projected Starters: The return of Pat McAfee
ensures that West Virginia will be home to one of the Big East’s most
experienced placekickers, punters, and kickoff specialists. Entering
his fourth season as the Mountaineer kicker and second as the punter,
the 6-1, 220-pound senior has a big leg, but was a little less
consistent a year ago, making 13-of-19 field goal attempts. As the
punter, however, he owned a robust 42.6-yard average, which was good for
second best in the conference.
Redshirt freshman Ben Rios and sophomore David Brewer are
emergency kickers with an eye on the job in 2009. Senior Scott
Kozlowski lost his grip on the punting job two years ago, but brings
experience to the position in the event his number gets called.
The departures of Vaughn Rivers and Darius Reynaud have opened up the
competition among the return men. Sophomores Noel Devine and
Jock Sanders are too flammable in the open field not to factor
prominently on kickoffs. Devine led the ‘eers a year ago with 511 yards
on 22 touches, and can go the distance with even a sliver of daylight.
Watch Out For…McAfee. Yeah, he regressed a tad in his
first year pulling double duty, but it needs to be noted that two of his
six missed field goals came from beyond 50 yards. In fact, McAfee
improved dramatically on intermediate kicks, a problem in his first few
Strength: Covering kicks. The Mountaineers led the Big
East in punt coverage and did a solid job on kickoffs, preventing big
plays and lengthening the field for opposing offenses.
Weakness: The return game. It’s not as if the returners
are awful, but for all the speed in Morgantown, you’d figure the
Mountaineers would be good for a couple of special teams touchdowns
every year. On the contrary, they lacked big plays on punts and
kickoffs a year ago.
Outlook: As McAfee goes, so goes the West Virginia special
teams. Proof that Patrick White isn’t the only dual-threat in
Morgantown, he’s versatile enough to challenge for all-league honors as
both a placekicker and a punter. The Mountaineers have enough
fleet-footed athletes to excel in coverage and in the return game.