MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The longest run in college football is not from one goal line to the other. Nor is it the pitiful path the lonesome kicker follows from the game-ending field-goal shank to an awkward locker room. It's not even the dash the referee makes from the spot of a blown call to the safety of the dressing room.
It's the heaving, jiggling sprint a defensive lineman makes from the bottom of a pile to the sideline.
And if you're a defensive coach, it's among the worst sights you can see.
"Once those big guys hit a wall, they hit the wall and they're not coming back," West Virginia defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said.
That was a problem for the Mountaineers last season. They didn't have a lot of players and most of that batch lacked experience. They had three true freshmen, one redshirt freshman and one junior college transfer - and Shaq Rowell saw more snaps in the first game than he did in all of his first season at WVU in 2011.
There were only two seasoned players. One was Will Clarke and the other was since-graduated Jorge Wright, who was forced to play out of position on the end of the line as opposed to in the middle of it.
The pace of the games, the length of the season, the youth of the group and the lack of help in reserve absolutely were factors, especially late in the season.
This season, the defensive line has only one new player, though the hunch is junior college All-American Dontrill Hyman will play in a way to edit that label. It's a complete reversal from where defensive line coach Erik Slaughter and his players were a year ago, and they're going to make it look even more different when the season starts.
"I feel really good about where we're at," Slaughter said. "Really good."
A year ago, he'd use his three starters and four, maybe five players off the bench. And those were the good days. Obviously, WVU's defense didn't have a lot of good days in 2012.
"It would be a feel in the game," Slaughter said. "If I put a guy in and I lost confidence in him for some reason or another, I might cut him off. The more confidence I have to play these guys, the better we're going to be.
"We're going to play a bunch of guys."
So sure is Slaughter that his returning talent and his one addition can consistently play at a high level that he plans to borrow from hockey and make line changes during play. Not merely during the game, but rather during series. Three off, three on. Play ball.
"With the tempo of the Big 12, for a guy to be out there at 275 and 300 pounds for five or six plays in a row, it's asking a lot to get lined up and get banged on over and over," Slaughter said. "The more guys you can play, the better off you can be."