Inexperienced D-line ready to make its impact
Published: Thursday, August 23, 2012
Updated: Thursday, August 23, 2012 05:08
West Virginia lost five starters on defense from last season at an array of different positions, but the most notable losses undoubtedly occurred along the front line of the defense.
Former Mountaineer defensive ends Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller combined for 14.5 sacks in 2011, contributing nearly half of WVU’s team total.
In 2012, WVU’s defensive line will have to overcome the challenges of losing both the consistent production from Miller and Irvin as well as the senior leadership the two brought to the defensive unit, all while adjusting to the new scheme being installed by WVU’s new defensive coordinators.
"(We’ve) got a lot of guys that have never put their hand down in a college football game," said first-year defensive line coach Erik Slaughter during fall camp. "And some of the guys are young, but we’re gonna put them in there and see what they can do. And it’s up to me to get them ready for that."
The Mountaineers have adopted the 3-4 scheme for their inaugural season in the Big 12 Conference, meaning they’ll regularly keep three defensive lineman on the field for defense. However, West Virginia’s coaches have also reported they’ll continue to incorporate the 4-3 throughout the year as well to give their defense a different look at times, and give some of the aforementioned freshmen a chance to get acclimated to the speed of a Football Bowl Subdivision game.
According to the Mountaineers’ recently released depth chart, Will Clarke, Jorge Wright and Shaq Rowell will be the first three defensive linemen lining up to begin every game.
Clarke, a redshirt junior from Pittsburgh, started 11 games at defensive end for West Virginia last season, accumulating two sacks and five tackles for loss. Now at the defensive tackle position, Clarke’s build at 6-foot-7, 271 pounds makes him one of the most physical threats WVU has.
Wright has the most game-experience of any player on the defensive line, but will be sliding into the defensive end position in 2012 after playing the majority of his career at nose tackle for the Mountaineers. The 6-foot-2, 291-pound redshirt senior tallied 1.5 sacks and 3.5 TFLs in 13 games last season.
Replacing Wright at the nose tackle position will be redshirt junior Rowell, who is the least experienced of the three, but Rowell believes that he’s made substantial progress throughout WVU’s 2012 preseason.
"This year, I feel like I’m getting coached a lot better," Rowell said. "Coach Slaughter is doing a great job. I’m happy that coach Holgorsen brought those guys in because they teach you everything you need to know. We will be prepared to play Marshall Sept. 1."
While Clarke, Wright and Rowell being named as the three initial starters didn’t come as a surprise, the fact that two true freshman cracked the two-deep on the depth chart was somewhat unexpected.
"All of the freshmen have been playing extremely well so far," Slaughter said. "All our guys are hungry; they want to do good, and they all feel like they have something to prove. That’s a good thing."
True freshmen Christian Brown and Korey Harris set the bar high for the other six freshmen in fall camp though, and will play a vital role in ensuring the starters remain well-rested throughout the 2012 season.
Redshirt senior defensive tackle J.B. Lageman rounds out the two-deep depth chart for the Mountaineers’ at D-line, while redshirt sophomore Trevor Demko and redshirt freshman Kyle Rose are the only two lineman currently listed at the three-deep.
It is well known that West Virginia’s defensive line certainly has some big shoes to fill this season, but it’s an objective that their line coach asserts that his players can absolutely accomplish as long as they continue to maintain the appropriate mentality heading into the season opener.
"We’re trying to be tough-minded, play extremely hard and be technically sound," Slaughter said of his 2012 Mountaineer defensive line. "But they’re all doing a great job. I like the way they’re preparing, and all of them are playing well."