WVU football: Slaughter emphasizes pressuring quarterback
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Last season, Stephen F. Austin's defense averaged 4.36 sacks per game in the Football Championship Subdivision.
"Best in the country," said Erik Slaughter, West Virginia's first-year defensive line coach who spent the previous three seasons doing the same job with the Lumberjacks.
It's something he's shared with his new players from time to time, but it leads to another number that ultimately explains WVU's philosophy up front for the 2012 season.
"We averaged 45 pass attempts against us per game last year," Slaughter said. "We sack the quarterback four times, that's still 40, 41 times a game the ball is coming out of his hands. We have to teach the kids that just getting pressure on the quarterback is a good thing because it disrupts them."
With the switch from the old 3-3-5 stack defense to first-year defensive coordinator Joe DeForest's 3-4 comes a new emphasis on pressuring the quarterback. While Deforest's predecessor wasn't a proponent of blitzes, DeForest will attempt to rattle the quarterback with his 3-4 that will sometimes drop a linebacker to appear as though it is a 4-3.
If the Mountaineers don't do that physically, they must at least succeed in doing it mentally. Slaughter said WVU will keep track of how many times the defense makes the opposing quarterback reset his feet in the pocket.
"Pressure in the pocket keeps the completion percentage down," he said. "If you go back and watch football games, you'll see if the quarterback resets his feet in the pocket, the completion percentage is very low. If he resets his feet outside the pocket, meaning he's scrambling out of the pocket, that's when you see big plays."
Ideally, his players would get the sack and end the play. If not, he wants them to force the quarterback to reset and then get rid of the ball while still inside the pocket and not give the quarterback a chance to get outside and find the time and space to throw deep.
"There are going to be times you get right there and don't get the sack," Slaughter said. "You can't let him get away though. To me, disrupting the feet is just as important as a sack and it's going to happen a lot more than a sack."
The Mountaineers will live with completed passes if the play is a reaction to something they've done to the offense's play design.
"Another thing we'll look at is if they throw a check-down," Slaughter said. "If they throw a check-down, it's because the pass rush. That's a good thing. That's a win for us."
WVU SENIOR Pat Miller and junior Brodrick Jenkins began preseason practice as the incumbents at the cornerback positions and haven't lost any footing for their starting position. Newcomers, though, are making the biggest pushes for the backup spots.
Freshmen Nana Kyeremeh and Ricky Rumph have begun to emerge as the top options for the second string.
"I feel like we have some guys who are ready to come in and compete right away," Jenkins said. "That whole class thing doesn't really matter to me. If you can play, you can play."
The 5-10, 170-pound Kyeremeh is from Worthington, Ohio, where he was second-team all-state for the football team and a state champion sprinter as a senior at Thomas Washington High. Rumph, 5-10 and 175 pounds, signed with WVU in June. He was an all-state player for Mainland High in Daytona Beach, Fla., but didn't start playing football until his junior season.
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WVU'S FIRST-STRING offensive line rarely changes from what it was the first day of preseason practice: left tackle Quinton Spain, left guard Josh Jenkins, center Joe Madsen, right guard Jeff Braun and right tackle Pat Eger.
Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh is creating ways to cultivate some depth with his backups. The first-team sometimes alternates to include Eger at right guard and Curtis Feigt at right tackle. Other times the left side will have Spain at guard and Nick Kindler at tackle. When Eger slides to guard, Braun sometimes replaces Madsen.
The second team normally has Kindler at left tackle, Adam Pankey at left guard, John Bassler at center, Tyler Orlosky at right guard and Feigt at right tackle. Pankey and Orlosky are freshmen.
"They're doing some big things," Braun said. "For two freshmen to come in and play and crack the two-deep, that's tough to do."
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THINGS HAVE changed recently, but for a time it looked like quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital could have been the most bored person on the field.
Geno Smith is the unquestioned starter and sophomore Paul Millard is almost as safe as the backup because WVU wants to redshirt true freshman Ford Childress, who's been on campus since January. Those three spent a lot of time together in the offseason going over what is a rather small playbook and WVU didn't really change or add to it after the Orange Bowl.
Practice started with a very familiar feeling.
"The first three practices, I was pretty bored because I had already done the installation with Ford, Paul and Geno," Spavital said. "The first three days were very repetitive, but once you get things on tape, you start to focus in on what you can teach them.
"Things are crisper and it's becoming second-nature to them. The main thing I'm seeing is they're making checks now that they weren't before."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.