The Times West Virginian

Sports

March 30, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Bradley asks D-linemen to be ‘muckers and grinders’

MORGANTOWN — Throw away all those conceptions that have festered in your mind from defenses past, the power play John Thornton used to bring to defensive tackle at West Virginia University, the amazing pass rush that Gary Stills or Canute Curtis brought from the end.

These were players who would dominate games, bringing fame and fortune to themselves.

They are also antiques in today’s game.

In the defense that West Virginia is running today, its own brand of a 3-3-5, the defensive line as being coached by Tom Bradley is meant to be almost invisible. Their job is not to dominate the game, simply the offensive linemen.

It isn’t that he doesn’t want them to make plays. He plans on making them capable of doing just that. It’s just that isn’t their main responsibility.

“I want them to be agile. I want them to be players, but in this defense, we want them to be unselfish. I tease them, tell them you guys got to be the muckers and grinders,” Bradley said.

See, the game has changed. Quarterbacks now get the ball, throw the ball.

It’s done often in the blink of an eye. They want to get the ball in space to a playmaker, and the linemen’s job is to get out there and stop the linebackers from making plays in space.

This means the defensive linemen’s job is not to stop the running backs and the quarterbacks but, instead, to stop the offensive linemen, and you get very little credit for that.

“Absolutely,” said Kyle Rose, a junior from Centerville, Ohio, who can and will play anywhere along the defensive line. “It’s all in the overall defensive scheme. It’s all for the defense, not for individual success. It’s team over everything.

“In this defense you may not make as many plays as you would in the three technique we were in last year. You are going to be holding your blocker back and letting linebackers scrape in and out. That’s all in having a good defense. You need three unselfish guys.

“I don’t think you have any problem with that here. Our guys know their role and are definitely going to do a good job filling that role.”

“Playing the nose, you can’t be selfish,” added Christian Brown, a 304-pound sophomore nose tackle out of Fort Myers, Fla. “If you are, you let the whole team down. Being selfish is trying to do your own thing, not worrying about anyone else just worrying about yourself.”

Brown admitted that it would be possible to have a good season without having a sack, because sacks are going to come mostly through a variety of blitzes from linebackers and safeties and corners.

“I just have to control the line of scrimmage,” Brown said.

All of this, of course, is music to Bradley’s ears.

“I like they are buying into what we’re doing. We’re hustling to the ball. If you hustle, good things will happen. They’re going to blow assignments. They’ll go the wrong way. We’re not going to play the perfect game. But if you do it at

100 percent, good things happen. Every day you come out to practice, you can have effort,” he said.

Certainly, changes had to be made on defense for WVU’s defense has been unacceptably bad over the past couple of seasons. They are changing coordinators, coaches, players and philosophies, actually going back to the defensive philosophy that worked when head coach Dana Holgorsen came on the scene and inherited this 3-3-5.

“We’re going back to the 3-3-5 we ran my freshman year with Kirlav (veteran WVU defensive line coach Bill Kirelavich) and (former defensive coordinator Jeff) Casteel and all those guys. Coach Bradley knows this defense. He’s coached many a defense,” Rose said.

The difference on the defensive line is to hold your own.

“We aren’t more up the field than we were last year. We’re more keying on blocks. You just got to read your keys, watch the ball and take the coaching.”

And this year there seems to be, as there is at all the other defensive positions, more depth than there was a year ago.

“We have a bunch of guys who are going to be strong for us,” Rose said. “Christian Brown and Darrien Howard at the nose, Eric Kinsey, myself, Dontrill Hyman Jon Lewis are all strong. Our first team and second team are interchangeable. With the defensive line you need a lot of depth. You can’t ask for too much, but right now we are pretty solid.

“I feel we could throw in anybody and not have a drop-off in performance. With me, I’m bigger. I feel stronger. I don’t know about faster, but I feel quick off the ball.”

Rose admits, though, that for the 3-3-5 to work the key is to have a dominant nose.

“Nose is key,” he said. “That’s why we’re lucky to have Christian. He’s a big, strong, strapping young man. He’s pretty strong in the weight room. He’s pretty quick. He fills that role pretty well.

“In this defense, the nose guy has to be a beast, kind of like Chris Neild, and I think we have a guy like that in Christian Brown. Neild made that defense go. That’s why he’s playing in the pros.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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