A couple of weeks ago, West Virginia co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said there could be as many as eight true freshmen playing on defense this year. Well, the first two-deep roster the defensive coaching staff released late Monday afternoon had seven true freshmen on it, and 10 overall.
That's a lot of freshmen. Talk about the young and the restless!
“There are a lot of kids who have showed up ready to play and not wanting to redshirt,” DeForest said.
According to West Virginia’s first-year defensive coach, having so many freshmen involved at this point in the season means the defensive installation had to go a little slower than normal.
“You have freshmen now involved in the two-deep so with that being said, not only do you have to install for the freshmen, you’ve got to review for the guys here in the spring,” he said. “That is something that we’re trying to be cognizant of and understand that, hey, these guys are not totally sure what they’re doing and we’ve got to be patient with them.”
There are three freshmen listed on the defensive line two-deep (Kyle Rose
, Christian Brown
and Korey Harris
) three in the linebacker corps (Sean Walters
, Nick Kwiatkoski
and Isaiah Bruce
) and four in the secondary (Nana Kyeremeh
, Karl Joseph
, K.J. Dillon
and Ricky Rumph
). But having that many young players in the mix doesn’t necessarily mean things are dire.
“There is talent here,” DeForest said. “Our defense is talented. But it’s not so much what we want to do on defense, it’s what we can do and what our kids can handle. As a coach you’ve got to be smart enough to say ‘I want to do this but I don’t think we can execute it’ or we may not be as talented at a position as we need to be to handle what we want to do as a staff, so we have to be aware of those situations.”
Even though this year’s defense is peppered with younger players, it’s not like DeForest is coming in to repair a broken unit. West Virginia has developed a reputation for playing some pretty good defense around here and despite the switch from the 3-3 stack to a 3-4, that hasn’t stopped the players from flying around to the football – something that was demanded of them on a daily basis from the previous coaching staff.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned when I got here was how hard these kids practice,” DeForest said. “That was surprising to me. They get after it. They run to the ball and they are so physical, so I’m pleased with that aspect.”
Now, in order for them to keep flying to the ball, DeForest doesn’t want what he’s asking them to do to interfere with that aspect of their game.
“We’re trying to cut them loose and not bind their feet by tying up their mind,” DeForest explained. “And by cutting them loose we’re going to be a pressure defense and a zone defense and try to create confusion with our opponents. That’s the bottom line when you play defense is creating confusion.”
DeForest also wants his players to have the freedom to play off each other. To the defensive coaches, freedom does not mean freelancing.
“Freedom means moving around and disguising on their own – we allow them independent movements and a lot of the things we do in our scheme relate to what their teammate does,” he explained. “We’re going to give them the ability to not freelance, but play within the framework of the defense and be smart about what they are doing.
“Once they understand the whole concept of the defense … first you learn your position, then you learn the group behind you and then you learn the whole defense and then we will be a lot smarter, and more importantly, we will play a lot faster,” he said.
DeForest said he can’t put a value on how much quality experience his young defense is getting on a daily basis going up against one of the best offensive minds in the country in Dana Holgorsen, and a Mountaineer offensive unit that features some of the most explosive playmakers in the country.
“They are getting used to the speed of the game against one of the best offenses in the country and that’s what excites me,” DeForest said. “They get to see Tavon Austin
every day. Is there a guy out there better than that to practice against each and every day? Karl Joseph
gets up there in one-on-one against Tavon every day because he wants to get better. That’s awesome.”
“What they do on our offense as a whole really stresses out the defense,” he said. “It couldn’t be a better learning opportunity for us as coaches and our players being able to tackle those guys in space is huge.”
According to DeForest, the key is for his young defense to take what is happening to them out on the practice field and put it to good use when the games count on Saturdays.
“We can’t lose during practice, so we have to figure out what we can do on Saturdays,” DeForest said. “I don’t like losing in practice - and we do compete every day and we measure how we did - but I’d rather learn what we can do out there (on the practice field) than wait until Saturdays in the fall and figure it out.”
Right now, what the defense is seeing against West Virginia’s offense encompasses about 80 percent of what they will see in the Big 12 this fall. The other 20 percent the defensive coaches will simply have to manufacture.
“We take time out each and every day to talk about going up against power run teams, the two-back run game and some of those things we don’t get to see from our offense that we may see during the season,” DeForest said. “We don’t want to be in week four and that being the first time these guys are exposed to it, so we want to be able to go back and brush up on it.”
A big concern of DeForest’s is the teams that can run the ball effectively with one back and four receivers in the game.
“The teams that give you the problems are the ones that run the ball in 10-personnel out there,” he said. “When you play teams like Oklahoma and Kansas State that are going to run it down your throat, then you’re going to have different personnel groupings out there.
“A lot of times you may play the whole game in nickel,” he added. “We’re going to get our best 11 on the field and we’re going to have the ability to rush three, rush four, rush five or rush six, and that’s really it whether it’s nickel, dime or our base package.
“It’s how do we want to attack them and how do they want to attack us?”
As the Mountaineers inch closer toward the regular season, DeForest said the time has come for the guys who need to get the most reps get the most reps during practice.
“We need to get to a solid two-deep and the threes are going to have to start learning on their own,” he concluded. “We have to get the practice reps and start honing in on our opponent.”Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History available in bookstores this fall. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.