Blake Seiler Feels WVU’s Defensive Scheme Fits The Big 12

Mountaineer inside linebacker coach Blake Seiler works with his players in a drill.

Blake Seiler Feels WVU’s Defensive Scheme Fits The Big 12

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Of the Mountaineers’ five defensive assistant football coaches, three of them followed Neal Brown from Troy to West Virginia.

Vic Koenning (defensive coordinator and safeties), Jordan Lesley (defensive line) and Al Pogue (outside linebackers) all worked together with the Trojans. Cornerback coach Jahmile Addae and inside linebacker coach Blake Seiler are the only newcomers.

Koenning’s defensive scheme, which can bounce from a 4-3 to 4-2-5 to 3-4 and all points in between, is unique. Addae and Seiler had to first learn the defense themselves before they could teach it to their players.

West Virginia assistant coach Blake Seiler
West Virginia assistant coach Blake Seiler

Seiler had a jump start on learning the defense, though. A defensive end at Kansas State (2003-06), Blake earned a mechanical engineering degree from K-State and then spent a couple years working for Cesena Aircraft. Wildcat legend Bill Snyder, who was returning as KSU’s head coach after a four-year hiatus, talked Seiler into rejoining him Manhattan in 2009, initially as a quality control coach. It so happened that Koenning, who was a K-State grad himself (class of 1983), was the Wildcats’ co-defensive coordinator at the time.

Certainly Koenning has made some changes to the defense he employed a decade ago at KSU, but Seiler wasn’t starting from ground zero when the two teamed up again at West Virginia this winter.

“I was familiar with a lot of the terminology,” explained Seiler. “It’s similar to what Vic did at Kansas State when I was with him, which has helped me with my learning curve, and that’s another reason why Vic felt comfortable with bringing me in (to WVU). A lot of the names are the same, though they are playing some techniques a little bit different now than what we were 10 years ago. He’s evolved a little bit with some things you have to do with the offenses that you see now. But all in all, it’s not a whole lot different to what it was 10 years ago.”

Seiler feels that Koenning’s multi-look defense is a good system for the ever-evolving Big 12 style of offensive football. It can adjust to the spread passing attacks and also power run teams.

The Big 12 previously was known as the home of pass happy offenses, and teams like Oklahoma and Oklahoma State can still throw the ball as well as anyone in the country. But some of the Air Raid coaches of the not-too-distant past (or should I say passes) are gone, as Baylor’s Art Briles, Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury and West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen have all moved outside the conference, or, in Briles’ case, outside football all together.

The new coaches in the league, like Matt Rhule at Baylor, Matt Wells at Texas Tech, Chris Klieman at Kansas State and Les Miles at Kansas all have emphasized the ground game in the past, so the Big 12 may not be quite as much the aerial circus as it used to be.

Having spent the last decade coaching at Kansas State, including serving as the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator in 2018, Seiler has a good idea of what Big 12 offenses can do and the direction they are heading. And he feels Koenning’s scheme is equipped to handle whatever the league’s teams throw at it.

“I think there’s a lot of good elements to it,” Seiler said of WVU’s new defensive look. “You can see that spread offense is not just in the Big 12 anymore; it’s permeating throughout college football, and even the NFL level. I think there’s a lot of good things that are unique that will help us, especially looking at it from my perspective, a guy that has been here for a decade defending all of that.

“And you also look at the league, too, offensively, it’s changing a little bit,” the Goddard, Kansas, native added. “A lot of spread guys are now out of the league. Kingsbury is gone, Art Briles is not here anymore, and Dana Holgorsen is not here anymore. But a lot of those principles are still the same, so now it’s just maybe you’re dealing with of a spread plus pro style. I think (Big 12 offenses) are trying to be more multiple than they have in the past.”

Seiler works specifically with WVU’s middle linebackers and its bandits, who at times acts as a defensive end and other times is utilized as a normal linebacker.

VanDarius Cowan
West Virginia linebacker VanDarius Cowan lines up in a drill at practice.

Dylan Tonkery, Shea Campbell and Jake Abbott have been West Virginia’s top middle linebackers this spring, but injuries have left the Mountaineers short-handed at the bandit, at least for the moment. Adam Hensley and Charlie Benton both sustained knee injuries last season that have kept them off the practice field this spring. Both are ticketed for the bandit spot and both are expected to be healthy next fall, but so far they are limited to solely to mental reps. Zach Sandwisch had been running with the first-string defense at the bandit for the first few weeks of spring practice, but a recent injury has sidelined him temporarily as well. That left Exree Loe as the only scholarship player at the bandit position before the Mountaineer coaching staff decided to move former Alabama transfer VanDarius Cowan from middle linebacker over to bandit this week.

“He’s been good as showing rush-ability as far as getting to the quarterback,” Seiler said of the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Cowan. “It’s a new scheme for him, and then also a new position in the last week for him. Anytime you do that, guys can get bogged down with the mental part of the game. But he’s shown promise, and the mission for the rest of the spring is to get him comfortable with what he’s doing.

“(Cowan) has got some athletic skills, and then when you have the length like he has, that gives you some natural pass rush ability.”

By the fall, Seiler hopes to have three or four middle linebackers ready for game action as well as four or five bandits. He feels that will be sufficient depth for those two spots. For the most part, he doesn’t expect to do a lot of rotating at the middle linebacker, but he could foresee subbing bandits in and out frequently to keep a fresh one on the field most of the time.

“For the (middle) linebacker, you need a guy who is trusted to make so many calls,” he explained. “So you may not rotate at that position as much, certainly not as much as when I coached (defensive) line. The d-line is truly about keeping them fresh and rotating them in and out, so that way you can have fresh pass rushers in the fourth quarter. With linebacker, I think it’s important to be fresh, but it’s more important that you have the right field general out there to make those calls. In my experience, there are usually only a few guys that have the knowledge base to do that.

“The bandit, though, is a position you can rotate more,” Seiler continued. “You can treat it more like a defensive line spot where your goal is to keep a fresh player there. So while you may not rotate the middle linebacker as much, if you are comfortable with the guy out there, you can play multiple bandits, so you keep a fresh pass rusher in the game.”

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