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January 15, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: Casteel building another monster

MORGANTOWN — Sometimes the best things that happen are those things that don’t happen, and so it is with West Virginia University football, 2011.

When spring practice begins with the first thaw, the attention will shift onto the anti-Mullen, Dana Holgorsen, and his razzle-dazzle, “Air Raid” offense. Considering that this is a fan base that was spoiled by the likes of Patrick White, Steve Slaton, Darius Reynaud and Owen Schmitt, an offensive revival is almost as welcome a thing around these parts as spring break.

With promises that the spring air will be filled with footballs, attention will be diverted in that direction, which is just fine for one member of the Mountaineer coaching staff, the man who has become “The Doctor of Defense,” Jeff Casteel.

Casteel is a coach who prefers the simple life, a steel gray sweatshirt worn with a pair of khaki shorts with a sheet of paper that outlines the work to be done that day folded in his back pocket. He thrives on being within a darkened room with a flickering screen while bypassing the spotlight he certainly has earned with his defensive genius. Casteel is not one who craves attention at any time other than game day, and then only in a post-game discussion on how he put the brakes on another high-powered offense.

There are those who already are writing the obituary of the defensive dominance we saw a year ago, knowing that this year’s defense has lost its heart and its soul, to say nothing of its liver, kidneys and lungs, through graduation and attrition.

When safety Robert Sands declared for the National Football League draft last week, it made eight regulars from this year’s impenetrable defense who were gone.

There was Chris Neild, the nose guard; and Scooter Berry, the defensive end; along with linebackers J.T. Thomas, Anthony Leonard and Pat Lazear. Toss in cornerback Brandon Hogan and safeties Sands and Sidney Glover, and you’ve got a six-pack plus two heading out the door.

To those who say this could give a new meaning to the term “Doomsday Defense” in Morgantown, let us make note of one thing.

If the cupboard were that bare, would Casteel still be here?

The man, I assure you, is neither stupid nor a masochist.

Make no doubt Jeff Casteel could have exited stage left after building what was as near a perfect defense as you will find. He could have gone for a new challenge and for more money. The truth is, he probably even looks better in colors that aren’t gold and blue, but he opted to stick around.

Why?

Well, it just might be that he sees an opportunity here to create yet another Castillian defense, to take his baby, that 3-3-5 odd stack or whatever it is they call it in football lingo, and retool it with new faces behind old facemasks.

If the defensive line seems decimated, think of it as only a chance to get Bruce Irvin more playing time, to turn him into a full-time monster. If he recorded 14 sacks as a third-down specialist, what can he do on first and second down when they aren’t game-planning to stop him? Rest assured Casteel is brewing something special to feature the best pass rusher at West Virginia since the days of Canute Curtis and Gary Stills.

And Julian Miller is back along with a young, promising 6-6 monster of defensive end named Will Clarke, so Casteel certainly is not lacking there.

What’s more, could the defensive line be in better hands than those of Bill Kirelawich, who has been there since the Carter administration, or so it seems, and in all the time he has been at WVU there has never really been a moment when the defensive line was the weak link.

The linebacking crew took a hit through graduation, but even a doubting Thomas has to admit that the linebacker named Najee is Goode and it’s time for Casey Vance and Doug Riggs and Branko Busick to make their presence felt. There is hope, too, that junior college transfer Josh Francis can move right in at linebacker.

The secondary isn’t nearly hurt as badly as you might think for Keith Tandy returns with his Big East-leading six interceptions, and the leading tackler from last year, safety Terence Garvin, brings his tackling stick back with him for two more years.

Even though Sands left, he did so having actually anticipated it himself and having spent a good bit of time preparing Eain Smith as his replacement.

And as for Hogan, Broderick Jenkins and Pat Miller have been groomed for his departure, so there shouldn’t be much of a falloff.

Will this be as dominating a defense as last year’s? No way, but then Jeff Mullen isn’t running the WVU offense, either, so the anticipation is it doesn’t have to be.

Just feel secure in the knowledge that it is a Jeff Casteel defense, and he is “The Doctor of Defense,” is he not?

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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