The Times West Virginian

August 13, 2011

Replacing Neild easier said than done

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Whenever you have a coaching change, there are any number of key things that must be accomplished before success can come, but at West Virginia University the very most important item on the agenda has nothing to do with the restructured coaching situation.

To remain at, or near, the top, the Mountaineers must find a replacement on defense for nose guard Chris Neild, who was the heart and soul of last year’s defense that ranked third in the nation.

“It’s critical,” defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich admitted. “You go back 30 years, look at John Thornton, David Grant, John Oblak … our deal here defensively has hinged on do we have a good nose or don’t we. We play an odd front, so it requires a guy who could be a solid guy inside.”

Neild was one of the best, a mountain of man who was far more athletic than he would appear. He spent a good deal of time occupying a double team in the middle, freeing up linebackers to move freely and Bruce Irvin to rush from the defensive end spot.

This year it appears that the job will go to Jorge Wright, who apparently has put the worst behind of a traffic stop gone bad when a gun and small amount of marijuana was allegedly found in the car he was driving.

Wright is not Neild.

“Is he going to be another Chris Neild?” said Kirelawich, about to answer his own question. “Not at first he’s not. What I want to see is Jorge get better every day. He has to be a little bit more explosive, get incrementally better every day.”

Wright will share a lot of time with Josh Taylor, a hard-nosed player who is not as big as Wright or Neild.

“Josh Taylor has proven he’s a good player. He’s not flashy, but he gets the job done,” Kirelawich said.

There is also a dark horse in this race, a talented junior college transfer named Shaq Rowell, who may just be the answer. He’s behind, but at 6-4 and 308, he is the kind of player who can dominate the position.

“Shaq has to get a feel for what he’s doing. He doesn’t have to be a good player by Marshall. He needs to come on at the end of the year,” Kirelawich said.

And rest assured, he will get a chance to prove himself.

“If a guy is good enough there, I’ll play him,” Kirelawich said. “Jorge is No. 1 right now. That can change any day. Every day they are out there competing for a position.”

But someone has to be the answer.

“The closer you get to the ball, the better football player you have to be. Think about it. You’re on an end, it’s only coming at you from one side. If you’re in the middle, it’s coming at you from both sides. If you are middle linebacker, nose guard, safety … you better be a good player,” Kirelawich explained.

“I don’t care the sport. It can be baseball, basketball or football, you have got to develop it from the inside out. Baseball you have to be strong up the middle. It’s no different in football. Traditionally, the best players are the guys who play close to the ball and inside in the formation.”

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Brace yourself for more conference rumors.

Word is the SEC seems certain to steal away Texas A&M from the Big 12 and maybe Florida State from the ACC, igniting another round of musical conferences. Guess which Big East team would be looking to move into the ACC if that were to happen? If you guessed West Virginia, well, sit back and enjoy this one.

This from John Swofford, ACC commissioner: “As I’ve said previously, we’ll continue to be mindful of the collegiate landscape and what’s best for the ACC and its member institutions. With that said, I’ve received no indication from any of our 12 presidents that they have any intention of being affiliated with any conference other than the ACC.”

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Former WVU soccer forward Megan Mischler of the Boston Aztec Breakers Reserves was named to the all-WPSL All-Star team. At the same time former University High girls’ soccer star Whitney Cavender, a midfielder, was added to coach Nikki-Izzo Brown’s women’s team at WVU.

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WVU is not planning to redshirt backup quarterback Paul Millard because the Mountaineers may need him late in the season, even if Geno Smith stays healthy.

“The days are gone when you redshirt the first- or second-best quarterback,” coach Dana Holgorsen said. “If he’s good enough, then you play him. If he’s the third-best quarterback, you redshirt him. Obviously, Paul is second, which means you’ve got to have your second guy good to go at all times. That’s part of the challenge of being a backup quarterback – to have the mental capability of being extremely motivated and ready to play at any point, because an injury can happen at the drop of a hat.”

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According to the UFL has found a way to save its season, dropping the Hartford franchise to cut to four teams, and will have its players, including former WVU QB Patrick White, report on Aug. 22. White will play for Marty Schottenheimer in Virginia.

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PRACTICE TIDBITS: Placekicker Tyler Bitancurt had his best day kicking, getting kicks off in an exceptional time. … Among those who have caught Holgorsen’s eye on the defensive line is Will Clarke, a tall, rangy athlete who could develop into a force. … Holgorsen plans to have only one scrimmage in camp, that a week from today. … Najee Goode is taking charge of the middle linebacker spot, being cited as a leader by Holgorsen. … While the offensive line is coming along and Joey Madsen has really impressed Holgorsen as the best center he has worked with, the right tackle position remains a concern. … Friday was a good day for the receivers, especially Ivan McCartney, who had his best day, and Stedman Bailey.

Email Bob Hertzel at Twitter @bhertzel.