MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - If it seems bold that West Virginia defensive coordinator Keith Patterson would dare to move arguably his best defensive player at the end of preseason camp, the justification Patterson offered might have equaled the move.
"I can tell you right now," Patterson said late last week, "he's already a better player on the perimeter than he ever was inside."
A year ago, Isaiah Bruce was a bright spot for an otherwise dismal defense. He had 94 tackles, second on the team to fellow freshman Karl Joseph, and led the Mountaineers and two interceptions and two fumble recoveries as a middle linebacker in the 3-4 scheme.
Early last week, though, Patterson, who doubles as the linebackers coach, took Bruce from his productive post at the Sam spot and slid him outside to the Spur. Patterson had thought through everything. He watched and then re-watched Bruce start 12 games and play all 13 last season. He watched the 15 spring practices and then the majority of camp.
"I had a gut feeling that it was going to work," Patterson said. "I felt like it was something we had to do."
This wasn't an experiment, even as Bruce dutifully defined it as one in order to protect the secrecy of closed practices. Patterson waited to make the move, giving him time to evaluate all the options. When he made the move, though, he knew it was permanent.
And it is.
"It's done. He's outside," Patterson said. "I think he'll play better out there. I think he makes us a better defense out there."
That's not the bold part, though. Bruce was one of the few players the defense could rely on last year, to the point Patterson admittedly played the freshman far too often and contributed to accumulating aches and pains. It stood to reason that Bruce would get better as his body matured, his knowledge expanded, his experience increased and his skills developed.
So if Bruce was one of the defense's best players and most able linebackers, then he shouldn't have an issue moving a few feet to the side.
The truly powerful part of this decision is that Patterson was perhaps more impressed by the players behind Bruce.
"I thought we had guys that were maybe even as good or better inside," Patterson said.
Senior Doug Rigg and junior Jared Barber have played plenty to prove their worth through the years and sophomore Nick Kwiatoski had been a first-team player throughout camp. Sean Walters is a redshirt freshman who has impressed Patterson.