By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
July 26, 2009
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – There may be more well-known defensive linemen in the Big East Conference right now – George Selvie, Greg Romeus and Arthur Jones are three that immediately come to mind – but for his money, Bill Stewart wouldn’t trade Chris Neild for any of them.
Neild plays one of the most important positions in the 3-3-5 stack defense - nose guard. In any odd-man defensive alignment, the minimum requirement of the nose guard is that he must be able to hold his ground and take on double teams.
But when you’ve got a nose like Neild, a 6-foot-2, 298-pounder who can push the pile backward and make plays off of double teams, well, you’re looking at somebody pretty special.
Last spring, defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel was asked to name the players on his defense that he least could afford to lose. Without hesitation Casteel listed two - senior middle linebacker Reed Williams and junior nose tackle Chris Neild.
“You’ve got to be strong up the middle in this defense,” Casteel said.
With Neild at nose and Williams at middle linebacker, West Virginia is definitely strong up the middle. In fact, Neild gives the Mountaineers an athletic and physical presence at nose they really haven’t had since John Thornton last harassed offenses in 1998. And like Thornton a decade prior, Neild came to West Virginia as a tight end/defensive end who was turned into a defensive tackle.
In 13 games last season, the Stroudsburg, Pa., resident accumulated 47 tackles, 4 ½ tackles for losses, 2 ½ sacks and a forced fumble. In 24 career games he shows 60 career tackles, 5 tackles for losses and 3 sacks. That’s pretty impressive when you consider he has spent his entire career with a pair of 320-pounders constantly attached him.
This year, defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich is expecting even more from Neild. After the spring, Kirelawich gave him the you’ve-got-to-step-it-up-and-be-a-leader speech.
“Coming in we knew that we were the veterans,” said Neild, referring to himself and Scooter Berry. “We knew coming in that we had to, I guess you would say, lay down the law and show the young guys the ropes.”
Kirelawich has a proven track record of producing high-quality defensive linemen. Neild said his approach is old-fashioned and effective.
“We get a couple of new things now and then, but we know the primary things that we have to do day-in and day-out,” Neild said. “If we have those locked down then we can just move on from there.”
Neild said he has also received valuable advice from Director of Player Development Dale Wolfley, a former Mountaineer offensive lineman who spent three seasons as a head coach at Phoenix Community College.
“He really talked a lot about our hand movements,” said Neild. “He also would give us a lot of knowledge of what he thought the O-line was thinking because he played there before. That really helped us a lot.”
Aside from sheer talent, one of the most important attributes of this year’s defense is the large number of guys that have played together at the same time. Neild admits that is impossible to underestimate.
“Playing with each other … we’ve had so many guys back that it helps out so much just knowing that the guys around you know what they are going to do and they know what you are going to do,” Neild explains. “That is where the fun is at, really. When you work with guys for so long on each side and just knowing what the guys are going to do - we’ve got certain signals to let us know what we are going to do.”
This summer, Neild said he has been working hard on his stamina. He wants to be able to play longer stretches at a higher level.
“I had a couple of problems with that last year,” Neild admitted. “That’s a main component, especially for a D-lineman, to keep a fast motor going throughout the whole game.”
Part of his stamina issues can be attributed to a lack of depth on the defensive line last year. This year that shouldn’t be a problem, particularly with the spring-time development of Josh Taylor, recipient of the Tom Nickolich Award as the program’s most outstanding walk-on player for 2009. It now appears Taylor is ready to take on a bigger role this fall.
“When you have backups that are consistent with what they can do that definitely helps out a lot, just knowing you have someone backing you up that can do just as good a job as you can,” Neild noted.
Neild said he weighs 300 right now but that his ideal playing weight is probably more like 290. “I love food,” he joked. “At 300 I feel a little more stable in there just because I’ve got more weight on me. But at 290, I will feel a little more energized.”
Despite being one of the key pieces in the 3-3-5 stack defense, Neild says he doesn’t mind it when Casteel runs in an extra defensive lineman now and again when the Mountaineers switch to their four-man defensive front.
“When he calls that 40 Team out there I’m trying to get out there as soon as I can,” Neild laughed. “It’s completely different just knowing that I might only have one guy on me. That gets me anxious right there.”
Don’t count on fewer double teams for Chris Neild, regardless of how many defensive linemen Jeff Casteel runs out there at one time. Teams will constantly keep two linemen on Neild at all times.
They would be foolish not to.
Big 12 Championship Report
Big 12 Championship Report 4
WVU Baseball Experience in Moore, Okla.
Big 12 Championship Report 3
Mountaineers Speak on CNN
Big 12 Championship Report 2