The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

April 15, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN- Spring game showed defense has improved

MORGANTOWN — From Dana Holgorsen’s viewpoint, which was standing right behind the offense, West Virginia’s Gold-Blue Spring Game on Saturday was a rousing success for it showed very little of what the Mountaineers will be in this coming season, probably not even showcasing the man who will direct the offense in the quarterback position.

But there was one thing he could not keep under wraps and out of view of Alabama scouts.

West Virginia’s defense is improved.

Not that there’s anything startling there. If they could find 11 guys who could walk and chew gum at the same time, they would have to be improved.

But we’re talking greatly improved.

It begins with the defensive line, which is being rebuilt under the watchful eye of Tom Bradley and his 33 years of experience coaching under Joe Paterno at Penn State.

“I’ve been happy with the progress of the defensive line. Those guys are learning to be unselfish and hold their lines,” said Holgorsen without prompting in post-game media briefing.

But that is only the beginning, for there is much, much more.

“We have so many guys with experience. We have guys on that second level who have played a bunch, but the biggest difference I see — with KJ Dillon and Karl Joseph — those guys are extremely disruptive off the edge. Daryl Worley has been phenomenal this spring,” Holgorsen said.

You normally don’t hear football coaches using the term “phenomenal,” least of all on a sophomore who has not been able yet to prove himself at cornerback.

A year ago, due to a lack of competitive players, Worley was used almost everywhere but a nose guard ... and wherever they used him, he played well but never had the benefit settling in as he did this spring.

That changed this year with depth at other positions and a new defensive coordinator in Tony Gibson, who like Holgorsen sounds as if he’s already pushing Worley for All-American recognition.

“Worley is as good as anybody I’ve ever had at his age,” Gibson said. “Our goal is to keep him in one spot and let him grow into that position. We didn’t have the luxury of doing that last year.”

Worley was so good that Holgorsen felt he actually took a bite out of the confidence his best receiver, Mario Alford, possesses ... and if confidence were measured in dollars, Alford would have been a billionaire heading into the spring.

Now, you ask him about Worley and he comes as close as he can as heaping the same kind of praise on him that Holgorsen and Gibson did.

“He’s a pretty big good,” the fleet receiver said. “He’s pretty long. He has great coverage skills. We are both going to make each other by feeding off each other.”

Asked what he sees in the future for Worley, Alford answered: “Bright. There’s a very good future for him.”

Worley’s rapid ascension has not surprised Gibson.

“I’m not surprised. Last year when I got here, he was one of the first kids I went up to recruit and get to know. He has it. He has the focus, comes from a great family, a great high school program. He has everything you want in a kid,” he said.

Put Worley on that second level with KJ Dillon and Karl Joseph, and you actually might have a group that can compete on the Big 12 level and not be expected to give up between 40 and 70 points on any given Saturday.

Gibson has a pretty good idea of what he has as he prepares for summer camp to open on Aug. 1.

“Obviously you are going to put the best 11 out there. We want to find our best 11 and our next 11. We have a pretty good grasp on that,” Gibson said. “Right now there’s some freshmen who are going to come in and be asked to step in and play right away at certain positions and in certain roles, so we have to go back, look at it, evaluate it and see where we’re at.”

Toss in an experienced, athletic and proven linebacker group headed by Nick Kwiatkoski and you have the right personnel.

Gibson is trying to get them into the right formations.

It begins with a 3-3-5, the same defense Jeff Casteel used to run when he was defensive coordinator, the idea being to increase the ability to bring blitzes from almost anywhere with linebackers, safeties and even corners.

A year ago the only rush the defense had was to get in line for dinner, but this year they are hoping to make life a bit uncomfortable for quarterbacks, both by pressuring them and confusing them.

In fact, there was a time when WVU’s defensive unit had 11 men standing in a two-point stance with no one down in the traditional three-point stance.

“It was something we were working on,” Gibson explained. “They were going empty (five wide receivers, no running backs) so we wanted to give them some different things and confuse the quarterbacks a little bit.”

And how does that work?

“The biggest thing is that you put guys on their feet for a couple of reasons. One, guys can see. Most people when they go to empty, if they are not going to run the quarterback draw, they are going to throw the ball quick because they know they can’t protect if we bring pressure,” Gibson explained.

“So, we want our guys up on their feet where they can bring their hands up and knock a ball down. Standing, they can see the ball come out better.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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