Mountaineer defense looks to find different identity in 2013
Published: Friday, March 22, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 22, 2013 01:03
Heading into its first season in the Big 12 Conference, the West Virginia football team thought it needed to change its identity in 2012.
Defensively, that involved putting a lot of emphasis on being what a few players described as a "finesse" unit that forced a lot of turnovers.
But what resulted was the worst season in school history for the Mountaineer defense. WVU ranked No. 108 in total defense, No. 118 in passing defense and gave up more points than any other defense in program history.
"The main focus points weren’t the most important things," said senior cornerback Brodrick Jenkins.
Now, as they are getting underway in spring practice, the Mountaineers – led by defensive coordinator Keith Patterson – are getting back to the same fundamental things the West Virginia defense had been about in the past when it was thought of as one of the nation’s elite units.
"We’re not trying to find someone else’s identity; we’re trying to find our own," Jenkins said. "Why not get back to basics and just go out there and have fun and just play without thinking so much?
"The sky’s the limit, and with this scheme, I feel like we have some good players coming back that could really get stuff done."
Jenkins was a redshirt freshman in 2010 when the Mountaineers were No. 3 in total defense and had defensive backs like Brandon Hogan and Keith Tandy leading the way.
He’s seen what it takes to be successful and thinks this team, with the new-look defensive coaching staff, has what it needs to make major improvements from last year.
"Being on a team like that, I’ve seen a group of players buy into a system and a scheme and get things done," he said. "That’s what I want to be able to do here (this season)."
To get to that point, the Mountaineers – the whole team, not only the defense – have been going through "program pride" meetings every Friday, in which they learn about the history of West Virgina and the WVU football program. It’s something the defensive players said was much needed after last season. They didn’t truly understand what it really meant to play in West Virginia where there’s not a professional team to watch.
"We don’t have seasons like that. West Virginia is known for winning, so for us to have a season like that, we felt like we let the fans down and the state down," said redshirt sophomore Isaiah Bruce.
"(At WVU) you’re not just a football team; basically, we’re representing the whole state, and the whole state is behind us."
That was the mentality those defenses had in the past. They knew that they were playing for something more than themselves and the program.
That’s the identity the Mountaineers are striving for in 2013.
"Last year, we tried to change (our identity) going into the Big 12, but I didn’t feel like we really needed to," Jenkins said. "Just the way of thinking and the way we used to go about things, that’s what we’re getting back to.
"I feel like it’s going to be much better football than we played last year and when we get back to that hard-nosed mentality like we had."