Changing Philosophy On Defense For WVU Football
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia’s 2019 offensive system under new head coach Neal Brown won’t be identical to what Mountaineer fans have grown accustomed to seeing in past years, but there will be a lot of similarities, especially in the passing game. On the defensive side, though, there’s a world of potential differences to anticipate, or at least watch for, as coordinator Vic Koenning and his staff evaluate the players on hand and figure out what they will be successful at.
That process starts up front, where defensive line boss Jordan Lesley is getting that initial handle on player evaluations and strengths during limited winter drills.
“A lot of the things we are doing are totally new, so I have a lot of patience,” Lesley said of the two-hours-per-week sessions where coaches can work with the players directly. “The guys are doing great. They are taking it and running with it.”
These sessions might be a bit more important for the defensive side of the ball, which is expected to undergo a fundamental shift in terms of approach. Whereas Mountaineer defenses of the recent past featured more two-gap responsibilities, the defensive ideas in 2019 include more attacking a single gap with the idea of penetration and disruption of plays from the start.
“It’s really a drastic change in philosophy,” Lesley said, comparing the 2018 system to what this year’s staff is hoping to employ. “I understand what they were doing, and there was nothing wrong with it. Ours is quite a bit different, so it can be hard to evaluate [the players from last year’s video]. “I’ve always said a scheme would not be a scheme unless it worked somewhere.”
Lesley isn’t putting in fronts yet, but he is looking at his players with an eye toward slotting them into potential spots.
“You do the right things, and you notice a couple things about certain guys. That kind of gives you an idea before you ever put pads on what you can and can’t do. It’s a good group. I think it is a real eager group and a hungry group,” Lesley said of the defensive linemen on hand in the spring, which numbers ten scholarship players, but only four with any significant FBS experience. “They are excited about it because it gives them a little more freedom to get off the ball and go.
“We have what we want to do, and I think any coach does. Then you have what you can’t do,” said the 12-year defensive coaching veteran, all but three seasons of which came in the junior college ranks. “Our deal is to make sure we put our guys in the position to be successful. The worst thing you can do is ask them to do something that they can’t do because it works on the board. We’re really multiple, but at the same time, pretty simple. I know that probably doesn’t make sense saying it, but those are things you find out in the offseason leading up to spring. I think we’ll have a good (idea) in spring ball.”
One big issue Lesley will have to deal with is the experience and numbers factor. There are just 11 defensive linemen in his room for spring practice, although the way in which the bandit position (not to be confused with the bandit in the 3-3-5 stack), is used can bolster the front. Two more signees are on the way over the summer, and the Mountaineers hope to add at least one via the transfer route to fill out Lesley’s rotational desires. With a play count in the mid to upper 70s, Lesley would like to have three complete lines with which to work.
“Maybe your top guys 30 (plays), the next guys 20 and the next (third) guys 20, or maybe you have two [groups] 30 each and you still need that ten to get you through. You also have to figure out what each guy’s stamina is. Those are things we will figure out over the spring and summer. One of the reasons we were successful at Troy was that we rolled 9-10 D-Linemen a game in. I want to roll three deep into the game, but you aren’t going to solve that until you dive into recruiting.”
Such depth wasn’t even present a year ago, when the Mountaineers hit the transfer jackpot with Jabril Robinson and Kenny Bigelow, giving them seven linemen with which to man the three down positions. There are other factors, though, such as the use of the spear — look at VanDarius Cowan as one candidate — to give a four-man front look at times. Those details are still a few steps down the path, however.
“We have to lay the basic foundation of what we are going to do. There are some basic fundamentals of D-Line play that you have to have to be good up front,” Lesley explained. “There are things a lot of D-Line coaches do, and then there are some things that are specific to our scheme that have to get taught.
Any fundamental shift takes time to implement, and growing pains are often present. Yet, Lesley feels confident that his experience with different schemes, plus the skills of those around on the defensive staff, will be equal to the challenge.
“That’s the good thing about our staff. Each guy brings a little different base and philosophy with him. When I was at East Mississippi Community College, I was a four down guy. The next year I was more like we are now, built like a 3-4. I think you have to see the pieces that you’ve got, put the puzzle together, figure out what you can succeed at and then go from there.”