By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
West Virginia University took another and, quite frankly, surprising step in improving what last year was statistically the worst defense in school history by moving Isaiah Bruce from an inside linebacking spot to the Spur position on the outside.
A year ago, as a redshirt freshman out of Jacksonville, Fla., Bruce played in all 13 games at the Sam position and played well enough to be named honorable mention All-Big 12 by The Associated Press.
He finished with 94 total tackles, which ranked in the top dozen in the Big 12.
Put another way, there were no complaints with his play, even after he went through the spring at Sam along with the first week of preseason camp.
But something was eating away at new defensive coordinator and last year’s and this year’s linebacker coach Keith Patterson.
“I had a gut feeling,” he said.
It was as if he saw Bruce as a competent, capable inside linebacker but a better outside linebacker. A year earlier they didn’t even consider the move because they had Terence Garvin at Spur, a really fine player.
But now, Patterson got to thinking.
“It was a complete evaluation. I watched Isaiah through 12 or 13 games last year. I watched him through spring ball. I watched him through camp, and I just had a gut feeling,” he said.
The idea, after last season’s disaster, was to put the best players on the field.
“It’s a different scheme,” Patterson noted. “We’re constantly evaluating our best players. We’re going to put our best 11 players on the field. I don’t like to be tied in to marrying people to a position. My best 11 this year is with Isaiah outside at Spur and my other guys inside.”
And one of those other guys who now has been moved inside and has a big chance to play there is former Morgantown High star Tyler Anderson. He seems to have benefitted from the change, too.
“He’s physical, big, had his best week of practice,” Patterson of the 244-pound Anderson. “It just made sense to me after evaluating camp. I felt we had guys as good, maybe better, inside, and moving Isaiah outside it clicked for him, and moving Tyler inside it clicked for him, too.”
While both are linebacking positions, they differ greatly and take some adjusting.
“It’s different,” Patterson, a former linebacker himself at East Central Oklahoma, said. “I made the same transition as a player. Your vision is different. You focus on a lot of things inside where, if you move to the outside, you eliminate a lot of things that are happening maybe to your left or to your right.
“It fits him well,” Patterson continued. “When you are inside you can see pretty much the whole formation. When you move to the field, you know there are one or two guys outside of you and you focus down the line of scrimmage and through the triangle that is set up.
“I think it’s easier to key from the outside, plus things don’t get on you as fast as they do inside.”
Certainly, Bruce is not complaining about the move.
“I like it,” he said. “I get to rush a little bit more. I haven’t rushed off the edge since 10th grade. It is a little bit more fun right now, even if we are in camp.”
He admits it is different and that he is still in a learning phase.
“I am just taking it all in,” he said. “There is less traffic on the outside and so much in space. I feel sometimes I am just away from everything, but I need to be a little bit more patient.
“There is less traffic and you do not see everything in front of you, which is not necessarily a bad thing,” he continued. “I definitely have gotten a lot better at being patient and slowing down, waiting for the play to come to me instead of chasing it down.”
Bruce, on the inside, would attack hard, but it is different in his new spot.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.