The narrative about West Virginia’s defense over the last two seasons has mostly been about how young and inexperienced the unit is.
In its first two seasons in the Big 12, West Virginia’s defense hasn’t done much to change that conversation, ranking No. 9 in the conference in total defense in 2013 after finishing No. 8 in the same category in 2012.
Heading into the 2014 season, however, it would appear things might be about to change. With first-year defensive coordinator Tony Gibson now leading the way, the Mountaineers have reason to be optimistic about the defensive side of the ball.
While each position group on the team has someone with plenty of Big 12 experience under their belt, West Virginia’s linebacker corps is perhaps the deepest on the defense.
With three juniors and one senior listed as starters at each linebacker position on West Virginia’s post spring depth chart, the Mountaineers will have plenty of maturity to lean on in the middle of their defense.
After starting 19 of the first 24 games he has played in, redshirt junior Isaiah Bruce has been through the Big 12 wringer. Bruce began his career by starting 12 of 13 games at the SAM linebacker position as a redshirt freshman in 2012.
He made the most of his chance to start, finishing No. 2 on the team with 94 total tackles and was named to the All-Big 12 Second Team by the San Antonio Express-News.
Bruce followed up his breakout freshman season with a bit of a lull in his second season in Morgantown after making the switch from SAM to SPUR linebacker. He finished with just 43 total tackles in 2013, but found other ways to contribute, forcing three fumbles and recovering two.
Listed as the starter at the SAM linebacker spot on WVU’s post spring depth chart, Bruce will return to the position where he has been most productive in his career in 2014.
Nick Kwiatkoski was a rock for West Virginia’s defense in a tumultuous 2013 season. After being redshirted in 2011 and seeing action on at linebacker and on special teams in 2012, Kwiatkoski started 10 games for the Mountaineers in 2013 and led the team in total tackles with 86.
Especially after teammate and fellow linebacker was lost for the season after tearing his ACL against Texas in November, Kwiatkoski became one of the leaders of West Virginia’s defense in 2013. For the defense to realize its full potential in 2014, Kwiatkoski will have to be as consistent at the MIKE linebacker spot, if not more so in 2014.
In his junior season in 2013, Brandon Golson made an impact for West Virginia, forcing five fumbles and making 31 solo tackles from the BUCK linebacker position.
As a senior, Golson figures to see plenty of the field in 2014. Listed as the starter at the WILL linebacker position, Golson will look to continue to be a difference maker in the middle of the field.