Young defense tries to find new leaders
Published: Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 23:04
The West Virginia football team boasted one of the best defenses it's ever had last season.
The unit ranked among the top five nationally in just about every category, and the most points it gave up in a game were the 23 N.C. State put up in the Champs Sports Bowl.
If the Mountaineers want to repeat that feat this year, they're going to have to find players to replace the likes of nose tackle Chris Neild, linebacker J.T. Thomas, cornerback Brandon Hogan and safety Robert Sands as the defense's leaders.
And, while they might not be as proven as those players were, this year's defense should have a lot of guys more than capable of stepping into those roles.
In fact, having the opportunity to watch players like those who left last year might help the new leaders step into that role in 2011.
"When you know what you're doing, you can help (younger players) out tremendously," said senior linebacker Najee Goode. "From watching the older guys do it right, that's how I learned all my stuff."
Goode, along with defensive end Julian Miller, will be the two most experienced players on that side of the ball.
Although Miller leads less by his voice and more by his actions, Goode said he will try to take on the vocal role that Thomas had last season with the linebacker corps.
"(J.T.) was a little excessive," Goode said. "But, I'm trying to get them going. A lot of guys play with energy; they just don't show it on the sidelines.
"I'm just trying to get their engines revved up."
Another guy who made a significant impact in his first season as a Mountaineer and will be looked at as a leader to the younger guys this year is defensive end Bruce Irvin.
"Bruce is a guy that's worked real hard," said defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. "The guys gravitate to the guys that work hard and have success by working hard."
And even though he will be looked on as more of a leader this year, Irvin plans on letting some of the older guys do a lot of the talking.
"I'm not a very vocal person," Irvin said. "I kind of step back and let them lead, but if I have to, I'll say what I have to say and play my part."
With those guys there, it looks like West Virginia will have plenty of possible leaders ready to step up and not only make big plays but lead and mentor younger players.
There's another player who Casteel believes will be a great leader to step up this year, and he might even be the best leader of them all.
That player is none other than senior cornerback Keith Tandy, who, after having some struggles in his first three years in a WVU uniform, broke out as one of the better defensive backs in the Big East Conference in 2010.
"Keith may be our best leader on our defense," Casteel said. "Those guys watch him work, and they understand how he got to be a good football player through hard work. He's great at helping ... all these young kids.
"He's like having another coach on the field."