Gibson On WVU’s Defense: ‘We’re Going To Be Fine’

Gibson On WVU’s Defense: ‘We’re Going To Be Fine’

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — You would think that after losing two defensive linemen to graduation (Jon Lewis and Xavier Pegues) and four underclassmen who departed for various reasons (Lamont McDougle, Adam Shuler, Jalen Harvey and Jaleel Fields), West Virginia’s defensive coordinator Tony Gibson would be panicking about the state of his d-line this coming season.

Despite all that attrition, though, WVU’s fifth-year defensive coordinator is fairly confident when looking at his defensive front for 2018.

West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson

“We’ve established that we have five guys coming out of spring that we feel confident in,” explained Gibson. “We’re going to be adding three or four more here in June that we feel can play. Some of them are young, and some are old. Some of them are unknown still. But I think we may be deeper at that that position than at any time since I’ve been here.”

That final sentence is a pretty significant one.

Since returning to WVU in 2013, Gibson has seen plenty of good defensive linemen, including some who have gone on to spend time in the NFL, like Will Clarke, Shaq Riddick and Noble Nwachukwu. But depth has rarely been an asset West Virginia’s defensive front has enjoyed.

And while it’s still way too early to state with any real surety that Gibson’s confidence in its depth will hold true in the fall, it’s understandable where he’s headed if you peek behind the curtain.

Coming out of the recently-concluded spring practice, the Mountaineers’ starting defensive line consists of junior Reese Donahue and senior Ezekiel Rose at the ends with sophomore Darius Stills at noseguard. Behind them sophomore Jeffery Pooler is gaining trust as a defensive end, and senior Brenon Thrift, a transfer from Penn State, appears a capable backup at the nose.

Those are the five who have earned Gibson’s confidence as spring practice wrapped up. If that were the end of the defensive line picture, though, WVU’s coaching staff truly would be worried right now. But there are more big and potentially capable bodies coming to help the Mountaineers up front.

Three current high schoolers – Dante Stills, James Gmiter and Tyrese Allen – have signed with West Virginia, and any or all of them appear to have the potential to help WVU in the d-line depth department as true freshmen this coming fall.

And West Virginia is also dipping in to the grad transfer pool, searching for a defensive lineman or two capable of providing immediate help.

It’s already landed one of those, recently signing Kenny Bigelow, who is transferring from USC to West Virginia and who will be eligible this fall.

“He’ll be an inside guy,” Gibson said of the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Bigelow, who is a former five-star recruit from Elkton, Md. “We need two or three nose guards to rotate in and out. You can’t play nose guard every snap in this defense and hold up for a full game, because you’re double- and triple-teamed all the time. We’ve got to get bigger in there, and we thought Kenny was perfect for what we wanted. He’s a great fit.”

A product of Eastern Christian Academy, where he was a teammate of former Mountaineers Daikiel Shorts and Wendell Smallwood as well as current WVU receiver David Sills, that connection aided in landing Bigelow the second time around.

“Sills, Daikiel, Wendell, all those guys helped us get him,” noted Gibson of Bigelow’s recruitment. “I wish he had come here out of high school. But he’s coming at the right time now. It’s a position of need for us, and he’ll be able to fill some holes.”

Having suffered a pair of season-ending knee injuries during his time at USC, Bigelow has been granted a rare sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, which he’ll use at WVU to wrap up his college career.

“He’s working out with Wendell and his high school coach now, and his knees seem good,” stated Gibson. “I think what happens is that when you get hurt, and then get hurt again, you don’t know how much the coaches have confidence in you. So you look around for a fresh start somewhere else. We’ve had success with those types of guys. Hopefully he’ll be a great story.”

There’s little doubt in Gibson’s mind that Bigelow will be healthy and ready to go when the 2018 season begins.

“He’s going to play,” Gibbie said. “We’re going to count on him to come in from day one and give us help somewhere in our two-deep or three-deep. We’re going to play them all.”

West Virginia hopes to add yet another grad transfer to its defensive line to help its 2018 rotation. Jabril Robinson, a 6-foot-2, 270-pound defensive tackle from Clemson, visited WVU this past weekend and could be the final piece to that puzzle, though he hasn’t announced his decision yet.

Add the returnees, the incoming freshmen and the transfers together all together and you get a total of at least nine defensive linemen who appear capable of playing for the Mountaineers this coming fall, with Robinson being a potential 10th. Suddenly Gibson’s statement about depth doesn’t appear so farfetched, especially in comparison to the past couple of seasons when West Virginia’s defensive line rotation rarely went past five deep.

While many look further down the depth chart, the names at the top of the two-deep are ultimately the most important. Donahue led all WVU defensive linemen in tackles last year with 40 stops. The 6-foot-4, 271-pound third-year junior from Ona, W.Va., started all 13 games last season after seeing action as a heavily-used backup in 12 contests as a true freshman the season before. Rose moved from a backup role into the starting lineup at the defensive end opposite Donahue towards the latter half of last season. The 6-foot-2, 275-pound senior from Clarksdale, Miss., topped all Mountaineers in sacks in 2017 with 4.5. In the middle, Stills is the least experienced of WVU’s current defensive line starters, though the 6-foot-1, 288-pounder from Fairmont, W.Va., played in nine games last year as true freshman.

“He is definitely a leader up front,” Gibson said of Rose. “He is a very vocal guy, high energy guy, always smiling and always doing stuff the right way. We look to him for leadership and just playmaking. By the end of last year, he was one of our most productive guys up front.

“Zeke is a guy who is hard to block one-on-one,” added Gibbie. “He’s got good size to go with his pop. Coach (Bruce) Tall and I were talking the other day, and we said Zeke has a lot of Noble in him. Noble (who is now with the Seattle Seahawks) was here for five years, where Zeke has been here two years. But you can see him coming along. He’s got pop, and he can run. We like where he’s at.”

Now West Virginia’s defensive line – and the team as a whole – heads into the postspring portion of their year. Don’t think the next several months will include a lot of time hanging out on the beach, though.

“We have two more countable weeks right now, and then we have about six weeks of discretionary, and then we get back in the picture in June, and we will push them hard,” explained Gibson in relation to the upcoming workout schedule. “Those guys will be ready. After last season, I wanted the (defensive) line bigger, and within a month and half, they are all a lot bigger. Some guys 20 pounds, some guys 15. (WVU’s strongth staff) will get them how we want them. I’m looking forward to starting this thing up in August.

“I am probably more excited about this year coming up than any year that I have been a coordinator just for the fact that we have so many pieces back,” he concluded. “I know a lot of people worry about who is not here or who is hurt, but we’re going to be fine.”

Home forums Gibson On WVU’s Defense: ‘We’re Going To Be Fine’

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    Gibson On WVU’s Defense: ‘We’re Going To Be Fine’ MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — You would think that after losing two defensive linemen to graduation (Jon Lewi
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    These top defensive line players dont want to play in a 3-3-5 defense. Kids nowdays want attention and big numbers and its just difficult to put up numbers going 3 vs 5.


    So what are you saying?  We change our D scheme to fit the wants and needs of the recruits?


    WVU goes with the 3-3-5 for a couple of reasons. It is a different look than many teams play (especially the second 3, which is usually a 4 with teams playing a 3 man front.

    Also, it requires fewer DLinemen to play, which is the toughest position to find on defense.


    Nearly half the NFL team play a three-man front, so obviously somebody thinks it works.


    I dont think I said that it doesnt work or that we should go away from it. I just said that some kids now days are out for big numbers and the 3-3-5 may make that more difficult.


    I dont think I said that it doesnt work or that we should go away from it. I just said that some kids now days are out for big numbers and the 3-3-5 may make that more difficult.

    I’ll say it; it doesn’t work. Yea, yea l know, it’s not all that different than a 4-3 on most downs. However, when faced with third & long we fold like a cheap card table almost every time. I love when we blitz and use our speed but seems like we never do that when we should. I’m just tired of having a D ranked below 100.


    3-3-5 works when …….
    I’ve seen it work when we bring 1 almost every down and 2 many downs and 3 some.

    3 on 5 just doesn’t work, especially when we are going up against the big arms of the B12. Thankfully the best arms have been drafted this year. But……. there are always replacements to burn us when we can’t (don’t) bring pressure. 3 man front doesn’t bring pressure if that’s all we do.


    Fully agree that getting pressure is one of the big keys. As you note, WVU has to mix it up, bring it from different levels and get guys to come free, because it just doesn’t win enough one-on-one battles to get pressure playing straight up.

    That’s where speed at spur\bandit and the LBs comes into play. If they can get home, WVU can be successful. If they come up a step or two short, that’s where many of the problems start.


    We just don’t pressure like we should. We don’t win the 1-1 matchups because we don’t have that many 1-1 matchups with the 3 man line. 5 on 3 is hard to get pressure unless you’re bringing at least 2 most downs. Good QB’s with that extra couple seconds will just pick us apart. Thankfully Baker and Mason aren’t there next year. But B12 teams always find a couple good QB’s to fill their slots.

    Not only does the 3 man line not put pressure on the QB, it gives up short yardage an seems to allow the RB to get into the secondary more easily. We gave up 3000+ yds rushing last year.

    I just don’t have faith in Gibby putting together schemes that will put real pressure on the QB while having the ability to stop the run with teh 3 man front. He hasn’t done it consistently in the past.


    If WV can’t recruit the defensive line studs going to an alignment that puts more mediocre players on the field won’t help. I like the idea of more speed on the field and the ability to recruit the tweeners who might not face quite the recruiting pressures of the big defensive line studs. I think WV could sin the story for Middle guards especially. If you can come to WV and show you can handle the double teams and create stability in the middle of the defense, the NFL will notice.


    Misconceptions about the 3-3-5 Defense have reached almost mythical proportions. Guys who run the defense are cool with that. The fewer people who know about it, the better off they are. Let’s set the record straight. there is 5 facts about the 3-3-5 Defense that coaches need to know whether you run it or not…

    #1. The 3-3-5 Defense is versatile enough to defend any offensive attack.

    This is not a soft defense. It is not something that can only stop the spread. That’s probably the single most ridiculous statement said. The 3-3-5 defense is the same as a 5-3. All that matters is what you call the guys on the outside. There are only 4 types of defenses in football. It doesn’t matter what you run or what you call your defense. There are a limited number of gaps. The 3-3-5 Defense makes those outside guys feel faster when you call them safeties. But the defense does not change. So whether you’ve got a bunch of Spread Option attacks or you see the Double Wing all year long, the 3-3-5 Defense can work for your team.

    #2. The 3-3-5 Defense is an 8 man front, best partnered with Cover 3 or Cover 1.

    The natural fit is Cover 3 for zone coverage or Cover 1 for man coverage. That’s the case with any 8 man front. Most 3-3-5 Defensive Coordinators are going to send at least 1 blitzer on 90% of the snaps, so Cover 3 works. If you like man coverage and a little more pressure at the right times, Cover 1 makes a nice fit for your 5 man pressures. But so does a 3 under, 3 deep fire zone coverage.

    #3. The 3-3-5 Defense is a great choice if you have no traditional defensive linemen.

    Since you’ll be slanting most of the time up front, this is a good fit for teams without any big, strong and potentially dominant defensive linemen. In the 4-2-5 Defense or the 4-3 Defense, you really need to have at least one guy who can play that 3-technique strong tackle. So if you just have a bunch of 5’9” 185lb kids on your team… this could be your best chance.

    #4. You can blitz aggressively in the 3-3-5 Defense.

    But running the 3-3-5 Defense does not give you license to be a blitz-happy maniac. Not if you like winning. A lot of coaches tell you this is a risk-reward defense. That’s true to an extent. But if you just blitz at random, you won’t get much reward. Blitz. Blitz a lot! But blitz with purpose. Think about creating fronts with your blitzes. If you just want to throw bodies at the wall, calling random blitzes just hoping the other team sucks badly enough to just get confused and miss blocks… well, enjoy the risk. The rewards may be slim.

    #5. The 3-3-5 Defense can be used as a change-up front to your base Even Front.

    The 3-3-5 Defense as a change-up from both the 4-3 Defense and to the 4-2-5 Defense. It’s a pretty easy adjustment. In both situations use really simple calls to make it work without much confusion. That’s tough on the opponents, especially if they are not expecting it. The ability to line up in different looks while never changing the principles of the defense is a plus. Sometimes this confuses the kids in the process. The problem has been no depth and lack of experience at playing this defense. You just can’t throw them to dogs only to be eaten like a bone. It needs to be learned in a process. This doesn’t matter what scheme you run. If there is no depth or no experience it’s going to hurt you. After all we are not Alabama, Ohio State, OU, Texas… etc. etc. etc.

    Google the 3-3-5 defense. You might find answers and learn a thing or 2. I have.


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