Chandler Trying To Fill Big Shoes In WVU’s Defense
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–Plenty of changes in West Virginia’s defense have happened since the end of the 2018 season.
An entirely new coaching staff is in place and with them comes a new scheme – out with the 3-3-5 odd stack and in with the 4-2-5 hybrid.
Gone too are six first-teamers who accounted for 141 career starts.
Certainly one of the hardest to replace will be linebacker David Long, who amassed 252 tackles, including 40 for lost yardage, in his three seasons as a starter for the Mountaineers.
The 2018 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and now a member of the Tennessee Titans, Long leaves a huge hole in West Virginia’s defense.
It will be up sophomore Josh Chandler to try to fill that void.
At 5-foot-11, 234-pound, Chandler is similar in stature to the 5-foot-11, 221-pound Long. And they both are heat-seeking missiles coming from the second level.
A native of Canton, Ohio, where he played for famed Canton-McKinley High School, Chandler enrolled at WVU in January of 2018 and was able to learn from Long as his backup last fall.
Playing behind a second-team All-American didn’t allow Chandler a ton of opportunities with the defense on game days, so the true freshman had be content with seeing most of his action on special teams.
The true freshman had 14 tackles on the year, and now he’s ready for much more extensive work.
The sophomore is going through his second summer of workouts, and he’s becoming more comfortable in the major college ranks.
“I’ve been able to increase my weight and gain more camaraderie with my teammates,” the communications majors said of his offseason work. “We’re doing team bonding things this summer, and we’re also going at it a little more on the defensive side.
“We’re watching a lot of film together as a unit, picking up on the small details, so when fall camp comes around, we’re sharp.”
While the spot Long played and the one Chandler is manning are both called “Will linebacker,” there are some differences in the position from the old defense to the new one. Long was always in attack mode, and thus the reason he finished third on WVU’s career TFL list with 40. In the 4-2-5, Chandler will be asked to play in space more than Long, but it’s not a huge change.
“The terminology is a little different, but defense is defense,” explained Chandler.
“For me at the will, it is a mix of a traditional safety and a will ‘backer. You kind of are out of the box more, but it’s still mainly a ‘backer
“The run fits are basically the same as they were, but I also have to be able to play more outside the box.”
As they say, it can be tough to teach an old dog new tricks. Thus Chandler feels there are advantages to a younger player learning a new defense in comparison to a veteran.
“When you’re older, you’re already set in your ways and not as open to listening,” he noted. “When you’re younger, you’re already in an absorbing mind set anyway, so you’re ready to learn. I’m not saying the older guys can’t learn, but it’s definitely easier when you’re younger.”
After going through spring practice and then continuing to study the defense through the summer, Chandler feels he’s gaining a pretty good handle of what he’s supposed to do in the 4-2-5.
“You can never be too comfortable with anything, so you have to put the work in to be prepared. But I feel pretty comfortable with the new defense,” he said. “I feel pretty good. I’m in a good spot.”
Chandler got a head start on his college career by enrolling early. A second-team all-Ohio performer at Canton-McKinley in 2017, he didn’t mind giving up a few final months of high school to get to WVU in time for the offseason program and spring practice in 2018.
“It helps a lot,” Chandler said of the early enrollment. “At the time, you may not be able to see it in yourself, because you’re just taking it day by day. But when you sit back and watch someone else go through it, you realize the progress they are making, and you see the benefit.”
Now with that extra time under his belt, he’s trying to take on more of a leadership role for the Mountaineers.
“I’m still relatively young, but I’m more experienced than a lot of guys here,” he stated. “So, I try to take that and help the younger guys who are coming in. We’ve started a Big Brother program, and I have Tykee Smith. He’s a spear for us, so we’re in the same position room. I’m able to help him out, guide him through some things and give him little cheat codes so he’ll be better prepared than I was.”
Chandler is leading the young Mountaineers off the field, and he hopes to be able to spearhead the defense on it.