WVU Defense: Just Call It Multiple
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – When he arrived at West Virginia less than three months ago, defensive coordinator Vic Koenning wasn’t ready to commit to a particular defensive scheme. Without knowing anything about the personnel on hand in the program, any announcements about the system that he would run would have been little more than guesses. With spring football practice now one-third complete though, a basic picture is starting to emerge – one that is a hybrid, with Koenning’s own twists of several base systems.
That patchwork quilt marrying of bits and pieces from several different systems isn’t a surprise, coming from a veteran coach entering his 33rd year in the profession. Adapting and borrowing from both three- and four-man front systems, and mixing in a plethora of hybrid positions playing anywhere from a wide alignment on the the defensive front to the secondary, Koenning is getting some initial ideas as to where West Virginia’s players fit, and how he can adapt his very changeable system to fit their talents.
“There’s some stuff that’s 4-3ish in it. There are a lot of things that are odd-stackish in it, although we won’t line up in that. Some of the concepts go back to that. It’s probably more 4-2-5ish. It’s kind of a way of marrying 4-2-5, odd-stack and 3-4,” Koenning said. “There are things of each system I like, and we have kind of doctored them up over the years to fit our players. We see what we have, and then we will gear our system toward it.”
Given West Virginia’s defensive roster, which has more linebacker and hybrid safety bodies than big defensive linemen, Koenning sees something of an initial lean toward more edge and second-level defenders.
“We’re starting to see things that make me think we will be a little more 3-4ish, but time will tell. We still have some opportunities to maybe get (a transfer),” he said of his hope to get a junior college or graduate transfer defensive lineman on board who can help right away for the 2019 season. “There are lot more linebackers here, and not as many defensive linemen. There are a lot of guys that are 225 (pounds) to 235, but there’s not enough defensive linemen.”
Koenning notes that when each of the defenses from which his system borrows face certain offenses, they begin to resemble a different defense. That should help assuage any fears that a certain percentage of West Virginia fans are bound to express when they see “odd-stack,” but Koenning makes the point that it’s not so much what the defense is called, but that its players understand the techniques they are executing.
“We would really like for every guy on the defense to have about five things they are really good at technique-wise. Then we can mix and match those based on our call system.”
For example, Koenning listed several pass coverage responsibilities that the two outside linebacker positions, which are now called spear and will, have to execute against different receivers they will face in different coverages. If they can do that, there are calls that can be made against any offensive alignment that should work.
The process of building that isn’t one that can be rushed. Initial assessments of the abilities of players are underway, but those still must be refined and improved via teaching. Some players are getting looks at multiple positions, which adds to the learning curve. The end result isn’t in sight yet, but Koenning is determined to make those on hand the best they can be.
“They are who we have, and it really doesn’t matter,” he said of a worry expressed that there might not be enough athleticism on the defense to execute the system. “They are the guys we have, and we are going to coach them and love them and make them as good as we can. Some of them can play, and some of them we have to get them to where they can play. That’s our jobs, and I’m ultimately responsible for the whole group. I take that personally.”