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WVU football: Petteway adjusts to a new spot

MORGANTOWN - Many players don't know what it's like to learn a new position until they are actually out there and in the middle of everything football asks of them.

For others, the realization sinks in some time later.

Shaq Petteway figured the reason he was bulking up in the offseason was so that he'd be able to play inside and outside linebacker for West Virginia after playing as a safety as a true freshman last season. His suspicions weren't confirmed until last Wednesday, when players reported and Petteway was told he'd begin practicing the next day as an inside linebacker.

The first day was entirely new to him, so he decided to withhold judgment for a while. The waiting ended the next morning.

"The alarm went off and I opened my eyes and looked at my phone and thought, 'Dang, I've got to do it again,' " Petteway said. "I got out of bed and my legs, my neck, my traps, everything was sore."

Petteway was a very good high school linebacker for Ohio powerhouse Steubenville, where he made 301 tackles in three seasons, but played the outside. Last season, he was a reserve spur safety and was even farther from the line of scrimmage and the middle of the field.

In the spring, the new defensive coaches moved him to the "star" linebacker position, which is outside and combines linebacker and safety.

He's a "Sam" linebacker now, right in the middle of the field, and he often gets the feeling he's running in traffic - and there are Mack trucks instead of cars.

"It's a lot different on my body," Petteway said. "I don't feel like I was as sore in the spring as I am now, but that's due to the fact I'm taking on Joe Madsen and Jeff Braun and Josh Jenkins and Quinton Spain."

In the past at WVU, Petteway might run into an offensive lineman five or six times in a practice. He was actually better off slinking around them to make a play. Now he has to meet those bigger bodies again and again, and often as the proper way to make the play.

"You have to be nasty and you have to be able to bring it every day, every play," he said.

The position tends to bring that out of players, even as one as smooth and collected as Petteway is off the field. On Monday, the first day in pads and with contact, Petteway slammed into a lineman for the umpteenth time and thought the 6 foot, 5 inch, 335-pound Spain pushed and pulled a little too long after the whistle.

So Petteway went back at Spain, never mind the 5 inches and 110 pounds Spain had on him. Co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Keith Patterson certainly didn't.

"He came up to me after the play and told me that linebackers don't take that from anybody in his defense," Petteway said.

Patterson saw more in Petteway to prompt the change and thus far the linebacker has only reinforced the decision. Initially, it was a way to get Petteway on the field. It may evolve into something much more significant because it looks like he fits quite well alongside the rest of the linebackers.

"The immediate impact I've seen is his athleticism," Patterson said.

That helps a great deal because Petteway must rely instinctively on other attributes in the middle.

"You have to use your eyes more because you have to take in so many things around you," he said. "At star, you're acting off the play. It's not like that anymore. In the box, you have to use your eyes and read the linemen, not the play."

Once he reads he can react, and the athleticism suits him well, but also fits with the rest of the linebackers.

Senior Josh Francis and sophomore Jewone Snow are battling at the Buck position, which is a mix of defensive end and outside linebacker. Inside, the Mountaineers project to have sophomore Jared Barber at Will and junior Doug Rigg at Sam, ahead of Petteway and freshman Isaiah Bruce. Garvin is outside with sophomore Wes Tonkery and freshman Karl Joseph.

"You talk all the time about spread offenses and how you have to be able to make plays in space, but we can do that now when you throw our four linebackers in the game," Patterson said. "We've got very athletic young men. Now what we've got to do is do a nice job disguising coverages and disguising the rush to keep guys off balance. Who's going to be the fourth rusher?"

Patterson has concerns, though, and the main one is common to players new to the inside. The view is entirely different and that corresponds with the change in responsibilities. Players on the outside aren't surrounded as tightly as they are on the inside. Players on the inside don't have the same room to roam or margin for error.

If a player messes up in the middle, the mistake could end up going in any direction. Petteway, at 228 pounds, is big enough to play in the middle. Right now he lacks the experience to apply to the new surroundings.

"The biggest adjustment is he's got to learn to play with a power base," Patterson said. "He's got to play with his pad level down. Out on the perimeter, defenders sometimes get their pad level a little higher because they can see more and they have more time to react. Now you move inside and it isn't like that. That's a big transition because everything happens so much quicker."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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