After two consecutive years of West Virginia’s defense languishing at the bottom of the Big 12 Conference, the Mountaineers’ second level is ready to make a more significant impact and prove they can slow down the conference’s multitude of high-octane offenses in 2014.
“Today was the last day with the pads, but we just can’t wait to put them back on and just get after it,” said redshirt junior linebacker Isaiah Bruce following the annual Gold-Blue Spring Game. “We have something to prove now, so (we are) definitely going to understand that and go out like we’re trying to prove something.
“Nobody wants to have a season like we did last year, especially as a defense.”
Specifically, West Virginia’s seasoned linebacker corps returns this year with as much depth, familiarity and perhaps potential as any defensive unit across the field.
“(In) the second level, guys, we’ve got so many guys with experience now,” said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. “(Nick) Kwiatkowski, and Isaiah Bruce, we’re going to add Jared Barber and Wes Tonkery. Brandon Golson didn’t play (in the spring game), but he’ll be fine.
“Edward Muldrow is athletic, (Al-Rasheed) Benton is athletic. We’ve got guys on that second level that have played a bunch.”
Overall, the Mountaineers have 10 linebackers on their roster returning who have played at least one full season in the Big 12 at West Virginia.
WVU’s linebackers accounted for nearly half of the team’s entire sack total last season to go along with 11 forced fumbles, but Bruce said they can be even more effective if they can learn to anticipate what their opponent is going to do next.
“I want to know everything like the back of my hand,” Bruce said. “I want to know and see what’s coming before it actually happens – I can play a lot faster. So I’m definitely going to be in the film room all the time, and definitely working on technique so I can get to that point.”
Bruce said he’s become more comfortable closer to the middle of the field, and the move has actually helped him improve quite a bit in a number of different areas.
“Putting me in the middle instead of outside has really helped me learn a lot,” Bruce said. “It’s all about being stable at one spot. I definitely improved over the spring. I got stronger, faster and more mentally prepared as far as knowing what to do in certain situations.”