West Virginia Football’s Biggest Questions In 2019: No. 3 – New Defensive Scheme
(Editor’s Note – In our series of stories over the next couple weeks, we’re going to take a look at each of West Virginia’s top 10 question marks heading into the 2019 football season. After that, we’ll also look at what we consider to be the top 10 strengths of Neal Brown’s first Mountaineer squad.)
* * * * * * *
There are several angles to address with the new defensive scheme that Vic Koenning has brought to West Virginia, but this first thing we’re going to dispose of is what to call it. There’s not right or wrong answer to this, as there’s justification for calling it a three- or a four-man defensive front, or in labelling players on the second level in a variety of manners. For the sake of simplicity, as well as versatility, calling it a 4-2-5 is as good as anything, so we’ll leave it there, with the note that other appellations, like a 3-3 or, for the old school, a 50 front, are just as valid.
That aside there, are two primary questions that come to the fore concerning the defensive system in 2019: Does WVU have the players to run the system effectively, and can they learn it in the few months from February to August to feel comfortable in executing it? (We dive more into the nuts and bolts of the defense in the next edition of the Blue & Gold News glossy magazine, which is included as part of your subscription.)
For our examination here, the first question: Are there enough players to fill every position in this system, which combine different aspects of a number of schemes, and builds new responsibilities for several of the hybrid spots that merge defensive end and linebacker skills and linebacker and safety skills?
The encouraging item to consider here is that Koenning’s system doesn’t require one specific set of skills for every position. For example, the bandit, who lines up on the defensive line, can be more of a linebacker type, or can be more of a defensive end type. If the former, he might play a bit more in coverage, or as an edge disruptor. If the latter, the defense might look more like a classic four-man front, with that player rushing and playing more as a defensive end. That’s really good, because it allows the scheme to take advantage of the best talents of the players currently on the roster.
Of course, there are potential corresponding negatives. Such versatility means that there are many different ways to align and execute the system, which, is, at its core, more of an attacking nature than one which reads and reacts. Can enough players learn the multiple assignments they may have, and execute when different players and tactics are employed?
Through the spring, WVU had more players of the hybrid safety/linebacker type that were the prime candidates to play, so that skewed a bit of the defense toward more mobile tactics. However, the departure of two potential starters in the secondary will necessitate some changes, and leaves the Mountaineers very thin at many defensive spots. Can those rising up the depth chart learn quickly, and integrate with the returnees to understand everything about the new system?
That folds into the second question – are the 15 spring practices, plus the 29 fall sessions, enough to reach a level of learning that will allow for efficient play. Without question, West Virginia will be much better equipped to execute successfully in 2020 after another year of practice, play and video review, but for the upcoming season, it’s the speed with which about 20 players can assimilate the defense that will have the biggest impact on the field.
That’s a tough task, but it is possible. Avoiding big mistakes that allow openings to be exploited is one of the biggest goals, and so too will be the change to a more aggressive mindset, especially up front. One other item to consider – West Virginia’s defenders should have the chance to learn from early games and experience and be better defensively as the season goes on. Those factors, not the scheme itself, are the ones to watch this fall.
Previously In The Series