Young, inexperienced WVU defense still has work to do before 2011 season
Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 20:06
The last time the West Virginia defense walked off the field, it was after the Gold-Blue Spring Game. It was the first time this new edition of veteran defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's unit played in a game in front of fans.
And they came away pretty unimpressed with that performance.
"I see a defense that needs a lot of work," said senior defensive end Bruce Irvin after the Spring Game. "We're giving up big plays to the (second-team offense), and that ain't going to cut it, not when we've got LSU and Maryland and UConn, teams like that on our schedule."
In that Spring Game, the Mountaineer defense gave up more than eight yards per play to the offense, including more than 600 yards through the air.
But even with the struggles in the spring, the players on the defensive side of the ball have realized there will be some growing pains this year before they get to where they want to be as a unit.
After all, this is a team that is looking to replace seven starters from a defense that ranked in the top five nationally in just about every defensive category.
"It's just another learning step for this new defense that we've got with the new guys out there," said senior defensive end Julian Miller. "We've just got to work hard in the summer and get everybody right."
And with everyone who departed from last year's defense, not only will the Mountaineers have to have players step into new roles as starters, but they will be looking for new leaders to take charge of the defense on the field.
With players like J.T. Thomas, Chris Neild and Brandon Hogan all gone and in the NFL now, this edition of the WVU defense is looking for players to step into the role those three provided over the last couple of seasons as ones who will show the way for the younger, more inexperienced players.
One of those leaders who emerged was senior cornerback Keith Tandy.
After accepting a bigger role and thriving last season, Tandy – who usually leads more by example – will have to try to take a more vocal role in the 2011 season and will be pretty hands-on when helping the other players in the WVU secondary.
"A lot of times you don't even watch the Spring Game, but I'm going to make sure that I sit down with at least all of the secondary to make sure we watch this game because we've got a lot of stuff we need to correct," Tandy said.
Knowing there will be a lot of young players on the secondary who need a person showing the right way to do things, Tandy said he's just going to go about his offseason the same way he usually would – by working hard and hoping others will see it and follow suit.
"I always try to out-compete everyone who's working here," he said. "I don't take any days off, and I just try to do everything I can."
Another player who will be counted on to lead in the defensive backfield along with Tandy is junior safety Terence Garvin. Garvin had his breakout season last year as a sophomore and offers another player with much-needed experience into the secondary.
"He's progressed a lot. He probably made the most plays on the defense in the secondary this spring," Tandy said of Garvin. "Every day he called me and was like, ‘Come on, let's get this extra work in. Let's go watch this film.' He's really buying in to it.
"He has to be a leader, too, because he's the second-most experienced player we've got (in the secondary). So, he has to be, whether he wants to or not."
In addition to all of the losses the defense suffered thanks to the NFL and graduation, WVU has had to get adjusted to facing a different type of offense than it will be facing when the season starts.
Last year in the spring, the defense got to go up against former offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen's offense, which was very similar to a lot of the other offenses in the Big East Conference.
Or, at least it was very similar to new offensive coordinator and head coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen's Air Raid offense.
"We haven't really seen an offense like we're going to be playing from week to week," Irvin said. "When fall comes, we can get the scout team players to come in and get them to show the type of offense we're going to see every week."
Even without seeing an offense like they'll usually see and having a lack of experienced players, Irvin said he believes the talent is there, it's just a matter of putting things together.
"I feel like we've got a group of guys who are going to run around, fly to the ball and make plays," he said. "The other stuff – like the missed tackles and the broken coverages – we've got to work on that.
"We've got a lot of guys who can give a lot of effort and give 100 percent every time we take the field together."