K-State Transplant Blake Seiler Will Have Big Role In WVU LB Restructuring
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — New West Virginia inside linebacker coach Blake Seiler looks like he could step out and take a few reps next to those players he will be coaching during the 2019 football season. Although his playing career as a defensive lineman at Kansas State is more than a decade behind him, Seiler still has “the look” that many elite athletes carry.
He’d probably scoff at any such notion, noting that ten years of coaching for K-State have removed him from the rigors of the sport, but at a minimum his players will recognize that he’s been there and done that — or, in the current vernacular, ‘real recognizes real’.
Much of the early storyline in Seiler’s arrival at West Virginia has focused on those Wildcat ties. After transferring from Oklahoma State early in his collegiate career, Seiler played for four seasons in Manhattan, then followed that with stints as a quality control coach, a graduate assistant,and assignments with defensive linemen and linebackers. When previous head coach Bill Snyder retired following the 2018 season, Seiler was retained by new head coach Chris Klieman, but was dropped down from his defensive coordinator duties to his previous spot with the outside backers. That, combined with a couple of other connectivity factors, lead him to leave the cocoon of familiarity at K-State to plunge into a new situation.
“I knew Vic Koenning, so that was the number one connection. My experience in the league obviously helped. My wife’s (Inge) family is about two hours north of here, so those were all big factors for me,” said Seiler, who will help oversee a restructuring of the linebacker position along with outside backers coach Al Pogue and Koenning, who is the defensive coordinator.
That said, the adjustment will take a bit. So many years in one place leaves an indelible imprint, and one that won’t (or shouldn’t) be erased. Seiler admits that it will be tough, but that his familiarity with WVU will help.
“This is a tough place to play. The fan base is outstanding. The mentality of WVU is blue-collar, hard-working guys,” said Seiler. “Toughness and dedication, all those things. If you give the fans something to cheer about here, it is a tough place to play. I think all the pieces are in place. That’s what swayed me to come here.”
Seiler, like the rest of the new staff, has been engulfed in getting to know the players and in recruiting. Only in the past week or so have the coaches gotten to work with individual position groups. They are now just beginning to break look at potential personnel assignments. What comes out of those initial sequestered meetings, along with a great deal of experimentation and testing during the spring, will determine what sort of system and tactics can be employed.
At WVU, Seiler will coach the inside linebackers, which will involve a good bit of re-teaching. Switching from West Virginia’s previous odd-front 3-3 to something else (4-2-5? 3-4?) will involve different assignments for defensive players across the board. While the techniques of getting off blocks and tackling remain the same, keys and reads figure to be different, especially given the fact that WVU’s defensive front is expected to be more of an attacking unit that a two-gap, eat up blockers unit. That potentially means more traffic for the ‘backers to sift through, but Seiler will rely on the foundations that he learned and built with the Wildcats to spark that process.
“We never had the most talented players [at Kansas State], but we taught them fundamentals. We taught them accountability. We taught them discipline. Those are the building blocks,” Seiler explained, noting that he saw much the same in West Virginia’s system. “Obviously, if you can recruit some talent and teach them to play together with toughness and discipline, then you have a chance. You have a chance to be special if you can add talent to that equation.”
West Virginia lost its best linebacker of a year ago, David Long, as he departed for the NFL Draft with a year of eligibility remaining. Returning are several with experience, including Dylan Tonkery, Zach Sandwisch, and Shea Campbell. A longer list of hopefuls, some coming off injuries, include Josh Chandler, VanDarius Cowan, Charlie Benton, Exree Loe, Brendan Ferns and Quondarius Qualls. JoVanni Stewart, who played LB a year ago, is expected to return to his more natural safety position. The numbers are good, but the on-field experience is definitely limited.
There will also be a good bit of synergy that will need to develop between Seiler and Pogue, who will handle the outside backers. The fact that Pogue has been working with Koenning for several years will help in the overall scheme, but getting on the same page in the coaches’ meetings is another foundational piece to ensure everything is taught consistently, For example, one of Pogue’s players will line up on the line at times, which has a ripple effect on the alignment of the rest of the backers.
While that sounds complicated, veteran coaches insist it is not. First up, though, is simply sorting out who will play where. There are some basics that will come into play – the inside guys figure to be a little bulkier, while the outside guys need speed, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. Seiler, who had the advantage of coming in to an established program with a settled program, will now get to experience a rebuild that isn’t starting at rock bottom, but which will provide plenty of challenges for all involved.