By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
We have spent a great deal of time during this past off-season noting how much of a step up in class the move from the Big East to the Big 12 is in football this year, but there is one area where the change may not be so great, and that is in the defensive lines.
“Defensive lines in the Big East were some of the best in the country,” West Virginia University guard Jeff Braun said, having spent the past three years of his life banging heads with them.
While the major conferences like the SEC, the Big 10 and the Big 12 were turning out far more first-round picks than the Big East, the Big East did have some classy defensive linemen coming out including Chandler Jones of Syracuse, Jason Pierre-Paul of South Florida and Elvis Dumervil from Louisville.
“The difference in the Big 12 is that you will be facing true tackles and true defensive ends,” Braun continued. “In the Big East, they play down. By that I mean safeties came down and played linebacker; linebackers came down and played defensive end.”
That meant WVU was facing undersized defensive linemen for the most part, players who relied on quickness.
“The tackles we faced were under 300 pounds and quick,” Braun said. “Now, going to the Big 12, they will be bigger defensive tackles, and the defensive ends will still be fast guys and they will be bigger. They also can rotate ones and twos, and the dropoff won’t be as much.”
The lines will play a different brand of football than the WVU offensive linemen saw in the Big East.
“It will be more LSU-caliber defensive lines depthwise,” Braun said.
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The last memory quarterback Geno Smith left West Virginia fans with was one of perfection, scoring 70 points against Clemson.
But it isn’t always that way. In fact, there are days in practice when the defense gets the upper hand, and Smith lauds them for it.
“That’s great and we expect that,” the quarterback said. “Those guys are out there working as hard as we are. We (the offense) need that in order to learn from it. I may throw an interception down in the red zone, but I will learn from it.”
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One area of marked improvement to date for the Mountaineers has been in the running backs, and not necessarily in running the football.
“The guys have been physical,” running backs coach Robert Gillespie noted. “So far, they have been preparing well, and they have been doing a great job in blitz pickup and protecting the quarterback.”
In the coach Dana Holgorsen school of football, protecting the quarterback is as basic as the ABCs are in school.
Another area that has been stressed has been third-down situations.
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WVU is installing a new 3-4 defense after years of playing a 3-3-5 stack and it’s as much changing attitude as it is in changing philosophy.
“We are trying to develop a mindset,” said co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. “It is like building a house. You have to build the foundation, and that is really all we did in the spring. Now they are starting to understand the scheme a bit more, and we are trying to give them things that are a little more complex.
“In some cases, you can see the light click on with some guys, and you can visibly see the improvement from Monday to Saturday. If we continue to do that, I think we have a chance to play really good defense.”
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One major step in the recovery of running back Dustin Garrison from knee surgery has been passed.
During the past week he took his first real hit on the knee, and it held up as he would want it to, giving him confidence to move forward with his rehab.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.