Growth Process Yields Good Feelings For Tall, WVU Defensive Line
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — It’s tough, waiting for potential to blossom. It’s even tougher when that process is slowed due to injuries or other factors outside your control. But when it finally starts to happen, the feeling is good.
No one has lived that more that West Virginia’s defensive coaches this year. Although mentors in every sport have had to shepherd groups or teams through the growing process at points during their careers, this year’s saga along the defensive front has provided provided a playbook for dealing with adversity. Already put at the start of the curve due to the graduation of stalwart seniors, the Mountaineers have been plagued by injuries as they attempted to rebuild the line. Playing in the offense-dominated Big 12 didn’t help either. Through it all, though, defensive line coach Bruce Tall has maintained his patience, while finding that line between teaching and cajoling.
“When you have young guys you have to understand things might not come as fast as you want,” he said, echoing a theme that he has sounded since the start of fall practice. “But, I am pleased with where we are right now. Collectively, it’s probably the youngest group we have been around.”
In wins over Iowa State and Kansas State Tall has seen his defensive front account for at least 20 tackles. Apparently somewhat settled now, with starters Reese Donahue, Lamonte McDougle and Ezekiel Rose, backed up by former starter Adam Shuler, Xavier Pegues and Jon Lewis, the Mountaineers finally have a bit of reliable depth to deploy. Shuler can certainly be considered a starter too, which helps even more.
Now that productivity is increasing, Tall is also looking to move on to the next step in the coaching progression. While acknowledging that teaching still continues, motivation and pushing for even more is also coming into the picture.
“You teach before you demand,” he said, quoting a long held coaching maxim. “We are still in the teaching phase, but you do have to be demanding.”
Tall gave a quick capsule of each of the current starters, and displayed his current state of mind by dishing out a dig at Rose’s interception against Kansas State. That, as much as anything, is a good indicator that things are progressing well with the group. Downward trends are usually met with more guarded responses.
“That blind squirrel does find a nut every once in a while,” he cackled with delight when asked about Rose’s excellent drop off a block to snare an ill-advised Wildcat screen pass. “It was a great play. He has great hands. He is a real energetic young man, always smiling, and you never see a frown on his face.”
While more challenges remain, that’s an expression that should be common in the defensive line meeting room.
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Lineman Adam Shuler returned to the Kansas State game after missing the Iowa State contest, and did so with a vengeance. He got a sack early and applied a great deal of pressure in the Wildcat backfield, finishing with six total tackles and two behind the line of scrimmage.
“I’m getting more techniques down,” he said of his play in that game, which ramped off after a slower start in some earlier contests. “I’m no just playing my gaps, but being able to dominate in it. I’ve had a couple of slow games, but I have definitely been getting better [recently].”