WVU football: Personnel, tweaks up front should benefit pass rush
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- As the name suggests, West Virginia's 3-4 defense in 2013 will have three defensive linemen lined up in front of four linebackers. The Mountaineers will base their defense on that alignment for a second straight season after using a 3-3-5 for a decade.
Yet while the second-season look will resemble what was on the field in 2012, there will be differences. A year ago, WVU used a defensive tackle and a defensive end outside and a nose guard in the middle. Those positions combined for 17 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks.
In the fall, the first season with linebackers coach Keith Patterson alone as the defensive coordinator, WVU will use two defensive ends and a nose guard and hope to increase tackles for a loss, sacks and the quarterback's turnovers.
"What we're doing up front is more what we're accustom to - attacking and getting up the field," defensive line coach Erik Slaughter said. "That's going to result in more pressure. We're going straight ahead. Last year we were a slant and angle team with a lot of movement and a lot of deception up front."
That didn't always suit the players up front.
"As a defensive lineman, you get more sacks when you go north-south instead of east-west," defensive end Will Clarke said.
The new alignment figures to enable that, but so does the personnel. The Mountaineers return everyone up front except starting defensive tackle Jorge Wright and backup Jeff Lageman. Wright's ability at 6-foot-2 and 290 pounds and the ascendency of 6-4, 305-pound Shaq Rowell influenced things last year.
"We're working with two end bodies," Slaughter said. "That's what we want to get to, two guys in the 265-, 280-pound range with that big nose, and we've got that. We played two nose guards last year. Jorge Wright was a great player, but really, that's the spot where we want a more athletic guy to line up. Two Will Clarkes would be perfect."
WVU has a different pool of players now, which means Slaughter will use new players to either side of Rowell as the nose guard. Clarke is 6-7 and 275 pounds and Slaughter has freshman Noble Nwachukwu (6-2, 270), sophomore Eric Kinsey (6-2, 265) and sophomore Kyle Rose (6-4, 285) to use at end.
Rose, Rowell and sophomore Christian Brown (6-3, 310) can play nose.
More outside help arrives in the summer when junior college transfer Dontrill Hyman (6-4, 265) enrolls.
WVU is training both defensive ends to play the narrow boundary side and the open field side so the defense can keep up with the Big 12's quick offenses. The Mountaineers will also make opponents keep up with them. No longer can opponents make educated guesses by finding Wright as the defensive tackle. WVU also adds a more aggressive, athletic player outside to attack the blocking.
"They love it," Slaughter said. "Any defensive lineman wants to go forward. There are still times we'll go side to side, but last year there was a lot more of that. They've really enjoyed it."
WVU isn't merely sending players onto the field and telling them to blitz more or to bother the quarterback more. They're being asked to line up in different spots than before as the plans evolve from there.
"We've got a couple schemes we're going to pull out," Brown said.
"I don't think we'll be pulling them out now. I think in the summer time we'll bring them out and work on them more. But we've got a lot of stuff to use to get pressure on the quarterback."
A year ago, the Mountaineers consistently put their outside defensive linemen directly across from an offensive tackle and the nose directly across from the center. WVU would use slants and angles to get into gaps and push through the line, and that worked on some level because the offensive line had to find which way WVU would go.
In 2013, WVU plans to line up shaded one way to another and do fewer straight-on alignments. The nose will line up to either side of the center. One defensive end will line up across an offensive tackle and another will line up outside of an offensive guard's shoulder. WVU can still slant and angle to gaps, but it can also go straight ahead based on the way the defensive line is positioned for a snap.
"We're more multiple up front," Slaughter said. "Instead of slanting to be multiple, we're lining up that way."
The multiple looks can allow WVU to deviate from the 3-4 and take on a variety of looks up front, which would then force the offense to adjust at the point of attack.
"We can be a 3-3 stack (3-3-5) and we can be a traditional 3-4 and we can look like a 4-3 (moving the linebackers) without changing the front," Slaughter said. "We have more different looks than last year. Our deal was to play heads-up and slant to different looks. Now we're playing to give them different looks, but to stay in that look."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.