WVU defense will see changes, too
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Anyone who says everything is going to change on offense with Dana Holgorsen in charge at West Virginia this coming football season overlooks something far more obvious and no less concerning.
The defense will have major changes and with personnel as opposed to philosophy.
The Mountaineers are looking to replace a cornerback and two safeties in the defensive backfield and two of the three linebackers in front of them. Just about everything will be different on the defensive line, too, where WVU graduated nose guard Chris Neild and defensive tackle Scooter Berry.
To make the fix, Julian Miller will move from end to tackle and Bruce Irvin will be asked to be an every-down player at end as opposed to a pass-rush specialist. The identity of the starter at nose is unknown - maybe veteran Josh Taylor, possibly still-suspended Jorge Wright, perhaps junior college transfer Shaq Rowell - but the Mountaineers know they'll have a very different look up front.
If that's where success starts for WVU's defense, that's where the concern must begin, too.
"This is going to be different than what we usually have," said Irvin, a senior who had 14 sacks last season, his first with the Mountaineers. "We had Scooter at about 280 pounds and Neild at - I don't know how much Neild was, but he was a heavier guy. We had a heavier defensive line.
"This year, we'll be on the thinner side, but we'll be faster with more speed rushers. Hopefully Shaq got right and he and Jorge can clog the holes up and Julian and I can do what we do."
That would be to bombard the backfield and the passer.
Miller had nine sacks and 14 tackles for a loss in each of the past two seasons with just about all of that coming from the end position. He's played tackle and even some nose in spots in the past, but never for the amount of time he'll have to play at tackle this season.
With a change of position comes a change of expectations. Miller, who once thought eight sacks was a very good season, has new and expansive goals.
"I almost feel like - not to sound wrong in saying this - it's almost expected of me," he said. "Being a senior, being the type of player I am, I expect to do that. I expect to make plays, but I want to go outside and make the interceptions for touchdowns and the fumble recoveries for touchdowns. I want to go out there and do bigger things to help us out. I want to be more opportunistic."
To get ready, the fifth-year senior, who showed up in 2007 at a little less than 210 pounds, is up in the 270s. The motivation? Miller was sure he was going to see more double-teams in 2011.
That may be true, but so, too, will the 235-pound Irvin.
"Teams are going to get their game plan against us, but it's up to me and Bruce to learn how to play together and switch it up," Miller said. "I know we're most likely going to be undersized and going against double-teams, but if we play with good leverage and good technique, we should still be all right."
WVU's three-man defensive front is always outnumbered, but opponents can't double-team both Miller and Irvin.
"They're going to double me and that's what I keep telling Julian," Irvin said. "I'm sure Marshall is going to double me with a tight end and chip me with a running back. I told him he's got to get off, he's got to jump off real fast so they're like, 'Dang, I've got to worry about him now.'
"Everyone knows about me, but people forget about Julian. He's had nine sacks the past two years. Nine sacks isn't easy. Once he goes off, people are going to notice and say, 'Dang, I've got to worry about both these dudes.' That's when we both start getting free and making plays."
The man in the middle makes life easier for his teammates on the outside. Neild excelled in playing at around 300 pounds and taking on constant double-teams in the middle of the offensive line or making the offense pay for not giving him that attention.
The Mountaineers have no one like him right now. Taylor is a former walk-on, fifth-year senior who weighs around 285 pounds and has filled in nicely in the past.
Wright, a 280-pound junior, was a standout during spring practice, but was arrested and indefinitely suspended before the Gold-Blue Game when he was pulled over with an unlicensed gun and marijuana.
The 6-foot-4, 310-pound Rowell is the most intriguing of the group, but he only enrolled last week. He played previously at Iowa Western Community College and had 32 tackles, eight tackles for a loss and two sacks in 2010 playing in the middle of the line.
The Mountaineers don't know much about him yet. Miller remembered Rowell as a "cool guy" when Rowell visited during WVU's winter conditioning drills. Irvin, who understands the travails of a junior college transfer, has high hopes.
"It depends on the type of person he is," Irvin said. "I think you wouldn't normally expect as much from a player coming out of high school. Shaq was a junior college player, like me.
"Coming out of junior college, you're a little more ahead of the others with a little more knowledge of the game. As long as you do what's expected of you, he'll be all right."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142.