Man in the Middle

  • April 29, 2008 12:04 PM
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By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
April 29, 2008

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Chris Neild learned one big lesson watching Keilen Dykes play nose guard last year: don’t quit.

  Sophomore Chris Neild is expected to be one of the keys up front this fall in West Virginia's 3-3-5 stack defense.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo

“He never quit when he was out there,” Neild said recently. “That was one of the main points that I learned from him and I respected him for that. He always gave it his best and he would tell me to just keep going.”

When Dykes wasn’t talking to him defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich was. In a loud voice that can sometimes grate, Kirelawich uses old-fashioned, time-tested methods to make his points. In fact many times you can hear Kirlav making those points all the way out in the stadium parking lot. This is the first time Neild has ever played for a coach as demonstrative as Bill Kirelawich.

“After my true freshman year during the winter I was kind of used to it by then,” Neild laughed.

Now, Neild has got to get used to playing a lot of football this fall. Sophomores Neild and Scooter Berry are the only two guys up front with any significant experience and both are being counted on to have big years for the Mountaineer defense.

“We don’t have a lot of depth so it’s real important that I try and stay in shape and not be bulled around in there,” Neild said.

Staying in shape has been one of Neild’s biggest issues since coming to WVU from Stroudsburg (Pa.) High School. Instead of playing just 10 or 15 plays like he did last year, Neild may be asked to play 50 or 60 plays this season.

“During the off-season I wanted to get into better shape because I got tired real quick last year,” he said. “That has always been the thing for me ever since I got here was that I was out of shape. Progressively I think I’ve gotten better and the only way to go from here is up.”

Neild plays one of the most important positions in West Virginia’s 3-3-5 stack defense. The nose tackle has to be able to take on blockers and draw double teams to keep the guards and centers off the linebackers. A stack defense with a weak nose guard is like having an airplane without wings – it won’t work.

“Every position is big but just knowing you have to keep those linemen off the linebackers it’s a big responsibility,” Neild said. “As nose guards we’re told that we don’t want those offensive linemen to even lay a finger on our linebackers. That’s one of our main responsibilities.”

Neild says he spent this spring working on some technical things Kirelawich wants him to improve upon by the time fall camp begins in August – things like coming out of his hips and exploding off the ball.

“Just exploding into the center and shooting my hands and going right for the center’s middle instead of missing and getting his shoulders …,” Neild explained.

Neild is probably the perfect height for nose tackle being in the 6-2 or 6-3 range. He says being tall at nose tackle makes it difficult to get leverage.

“Being short at the nose position is pretty good because you don’t want to be that tall because the guard and the center can get under you pretty quick,” Neild said. “Being my height or being a little bit shorter kind of gives you a little bit of an advantage because you have girth in there and it’s kind of hard for them to push you around.”

According to Neild, he is still a little heavy but plans on slimming down this summer.

“I’m like 300 right now, the coaches want me at 290 and my personal goal is to be at 295,” he said. “I want to feel better out there and not get as tired as quickly.”

Neild believes the defense as a whole will be better than many are expecting – particularly at linebacker where the Mountaineers have two quality players ready at all three spots.

“We’ve got a lot of speed out there especially with those linebackers and we plan on keeping that up,” Neild said. “With the summer training program we have we’re going to work on speed a lot because we want to be the fastest defense in the country.”

Playing fast also means understanding your assignments.

“We feel like the defense is a real tight-nit group out there,” Neild said. “We feel like we’ve got to get the job done and when somebody is slacking we kind of get on them a little bit.

“The one defense should be fine. There are still kinks we have to work out but once the season starts I think we will be good,” Neild said.