Taylor, Wright carry burden of replacing Neild at nose guard
Published: Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 23:04
For two years, West Virginia senior defensive lineman Julian Miller has had Chris Neild at his side.
With his fierce noseguard on his left, along with fellow lineman Scooter Berry, the two dominated offensive lines in 2010 en route to being the second-best rushing defense in the country.
Now, Miller is the most-veteran defensive player on the team and the lone returning starter along a much lighter defensive line in 2011.
And he can tell the difference.
"I've noticed it," Miller said. "With a guy like Neild, he never had to ask questions. He knew what to do in every situation … It's not a bad thing, but there are things that Chris could do without little mental errors."
Instead of the 301-pound Neild, Miller will work beside less-veteran nose tackles Jorge Wright or Josh Taylor in 2011. Wright, who is slated to become the starter, has just one start under his belt. Taylor has seven starts over his career.
"I understand with Jorge and Josh it's just a learning experience right now," Miller said. "It's been better than what I thought it would be, because those guys have either played the position for a while or picked it up pretty quick."
Despite Neild's unprecedented success at the noseguard position, which helped him become a first-team all-Big East Conference in 2010, Wright and Taylor say they are trying to make their own name in 2011.
"Neild left some big shoes to fill, but I think we've got it covered," said Taylor, who backed up Neild last season. "I want to do what he did, but I want to do it better."
Replacing the man in the middle won't be easy. Both will be the first to admit that.
But, is there pressure to live up to his expectations?
"There's always that pressure because of how good he was. I'm trying to be as good as Neild was. That's the only pressure I feel," Wright said. "He's a good role model for me, and I'm just trying to live up to how good he is."
The two aren't as heavy as Neild and will have a harder time of occupying two or more blockers at a time.
Wright said he feels his strength will take care of any lack in weight he has. Taylor said he has focused on keeping sound technique, which could give him an advantage against offensive linemen. Taylor also has the experience of playing the position in the past, at as small as 240 pounds, so he understands what it takes to manage as an undersized player.
"(Neild) was a big force inside. He clogged up the middle and freed up linebackers and other players on the defense, so it was a lot easier for them," Wright said. "As far as size goes, if I stay low and come out of my hips and use my strength, I don't think it will be any different."
Both would like to gain weight this summer, though, and want to be at 295 pounds in the fall. That would be about 10 pounds heavier than they stand now. Taylor has gained around 40 pounds since joining the team. Wright picked up 10 pounds since the Champs Sports Bowl in late December, he said.
"It's not just about putting on weight though, it's about putting on good weight," Wright said. "What we lack in weight, we make up for it with technique, power, skill, staying low. Just because (offensive linemen) are bigger guys, we can get low, and it won't really matter how small we are."
While they might not have the size or experience of a player like Neild, Wright and Taylor said they take a lot from him. Wright said he considers Neild the perfect player to emulate in terms of attitude, work ethic and the way that he carries himself on and off the field.
That is already paying off, as Miller sees the potential those two can have.
"We'll be alright," Miller said. "With these guys, it's going to come. By the start of the season, you won't notice a difference."