WVU defensive line brings mix of experience and talent in 2011
Published: Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, August 24, 2011 23:08
The West Virginia defense is out to prove that a successful season will start on the defensive line.
Defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich has been coaching at WVU since 1979, and over the years he has found that one general statement always rings true.
"The closer you get to the ball, generally speaking, the better the football player you have to be," he said. "You have to build a football team from the inside out."
Armed with a talented assortment of linemen at his disposal, Kirelawich intends to do just that – starting with nose tackle.
With the departure of three-year starter Chris Neild, Kirelawich's biggest task this season is to find a viable replacement that can serve as the strongpoint at the front of the defense.
"Our deal here defensively has hinged on ‘do we have a good nose (tackle) or don't we,'" he said. "If we're going to play an odd front like we do, it always required a guy that could line up and be a good nose guard."
The question Kirelawich has to answer is this: Who is capable of performing the role best?
Just like for a number of other positions on the team, a battle has been brewing that aims to provide a solution to this question.
"I think (redshirt junior) Jorge (Wright) can do it," Kirelawich said. "Is he going to be another Chris Neild? Not yet he's not.
"The only thing I want out of Jorge is to get better every day. Just get a little bit better, play a little bit longer, be a little bit more explosive."
Competing with Wright for the starting job at nose tackle is redshirt senior Josh Taylor.
Taylor was penciled in as the starter during the spring while Wright was serving a suspension.
"Josh Taylor is a guy that's proven he is a good player," Kirelawich said. "He's not flashy, but he gets the job done."
For now, behind Wright and Taylor at nose tackle is junior college transfer Shaq Rowell.
Rowell tallied 32 tackles and two sacks at Iowa Western, and could factor into the mix later in the season once he gets more acclimated to the scene.
At 6-foot-4, 308 pounds, Rowell is the biggest body the Mountaineers have on the defensive line.
"With big Shaq coming in third there, (he's) just gotta get a feel for what he's doing. Shaq doesn't have to be a good player by Marshall," Kirelawich said. "If I need Shaq, I need (him) to come on at the end of the year."
The other two positions on the defensive line will be held by arguably the best duo of pass-rushing defensive ends in the Big East Conference, seniors Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller.
Irvin will no longer be a third down specialist, which is a title he is looking to permanently abolish.
"I didn't come here to play third down, it just kind of happened," Irvin said. "I feel like I got a lot of stuff to prove."
Irvin feels that proving himself is a necessity after reading an offseason's worth of commentary on his perceived shortcomings.
"I hate hearing the term ‘every-down player,'" he said. "I don't think (Coach Kirelawich) would put me in the game if he didn't think I could run the play."
Miller is making the switch from end to defensive tackle after a successful junior campaign that saw him tally nine sacks and all-Big East honors.
To beef up for his new position, Miller put on 20 pounds.
"I was going to gain the weight regardless, especially if I had aspirations of playing at the next level," he said. "The amount (of weight) that I put on in the amount of time is just surprising to me."
Miller will now line up on the strong side of formations, a position Scooter Berry had last year.
As a senior leader, Miller is taking time to set an example for younger players, doling out advice alongside other seniors when he sees necessary.
"That's one thing we've really been focusing on as seniors," Miller said.
"Everybody's going to play a role in being a leader on this team.
"We've been there, we've seen it all."
A player to watch who has the ability to thrive as a reserve is redshirt sophomore Will Clarke.
An injury early last season hindered his freshman campaign, but he has worked hard this offseason and caught the eye of both Kirelawich and head coach Dana Holgorsen.
"I think Will Clarke Is like Marcellus Shale," Kirelawich said. "He's untapped millions. He's got great potential. Now it's his third year; I want to see some of that potential."
Redshirt junior J. B. Lageman, true freshman Ben Tomasek and redshirt freshman Trevor Demko have steadily improved and have proven they are capable enough of contributing in games.
"If a guy's good enough to play, he's going to be good enough to get into the rotation," Kirelawich said. "I have no reservations about playing a guy that I think is game ready.
"If they're ready to go, they're going to get into the game; they're going get their feet wet."