West Virginia co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest hopes to have about three-fourths of the defense installed by the end of spring practice. Right now, DeForest said the defensive staff is still spoon feeding some things to the guys.
“You are never where you want to be,” he said last Thursday. “We still have a lot of things we want to implement, but we also are aware that our kids may not be comfortable with what we already have in so we can’t put in any more. We may put in one thing a day, but we may just go back and review what we have in so far.
“It’s what they can handle and what they can handle is what they can execute,” he added. “If you go in there and watch the tape and see that they are not executing our base stuff then we can’t put any more in. You’ve got to finalize and fine-tune what you already have in before you put in any more.”
DeForest said the objective is for the defense to confuse the opposing offense while not confusing themselves.
“They are so much better at our base right now than they were obviously eight (practices) ago because they have done it every day,” he said. “I feel more and more comfortable with what we’re trying to do.”
Basically, Deforest said there are two schools of thought on how a coaching staff can install its system – bit by bit or throw it all against the wall and see what sticks. DeForest said they have done a little bit of both to see what they can handle.
“I think we fed them really slow at first and then we threw a lot at them and now we’re piece-feeding it,” he said.
Terminology is used in a common-sense manner to make sure the players understand things. For instance, the color red is frequently used in coaching vernacular to represent right because both begin with the letter R.
“We try to make it as easy as possible on them so they can try and piece things together and word association is what we’re trying to do,” he said.
However, because West Virginia will continue to utilize a three-man front as its base defense, a lot of the concepts from Jeff Casteel’s 3-3-5 and the 3-4 the current staff is using will remain the same, says DeForest.
“If I’m a five-technique, I’m a five-technique. If I’m a linebacker, I’m a linebacker. If I’m a safety it’s the same thing,” DeForest explained. “It’s just a matter of them learning the terminology, learning how we call things and we may change a read from what they did last year, but they’ve gotten it. They’ve done a good job.”
DeForest has been pleased with the team’s attitude and effort so far this spring and he doesn’t anticipate that being an issue this fall.
“They’re going to play hard. There is no question in my mind that they are going to play hard, and they have fun doing it, so, I think they have everything that they need to be successful,” he said. “It’s just we as a staff have to figure out how much we can feed them in order to confuse the offense next year.”
One player DeForest has consistently praised throughout the spring is senior outside linebacker Josh Francis. Last year, Francis appeared in eight games and made just nine tackles while struggling to understand the basic concepts of the 3-3 stack. This fall, DeForest admitted he will simplify things if he has to in order to get Francis out on the field rushing the quarterback on the edge. Francis is that disruptive of a player.
“He is a tremendous athlete,” said DeForest. “He’s a fast-twitched guy. He’s got a motor like no one I’ve ever seen. This kid goes full speed all the time and it’s up to us to simplify it so he can play full speed and not tie up his feet with his mind.”
As for Josh’s struggles learning the defense last year, DeForest said the past is in the past.
“We don’t talk about last year. All we talk about is ‘what you can handle’ and ‘what you don’t understand’ and try and get better,” DeForest said. “He’s a good player; he’s a great kid and I do think he will thrive in this system.”
As seems to be the case just about every spring, DeForest said the defense is currently dealing with numbers issues, particularly at cornerback with Pat Miller now shelved. The defensive staff currently has just three scholarship corners to work with for the remainder of the spring and that will impact what they can do with their third-down packages.
“You’ve just got to be careful how you practice them and how you rep them,” DeForest admitted. “We are thin there, but we’re going to do what we can to protect them and we’re going to do what we can to make them be successful.”
DeForest has also experimented a little bit by moving guys around, especially along the defensive line, but he anticipates that ending when his unit is back to full strength and the newcomers arrive this fall.
“We’ve still got (Terence) Garvin and (Jewone) Snow to come back and when they come back it may give us some flexibility to move other people, and then when some incoming freshmen come in, it may give us depth at one spot where we can move another guy, so really those pieces will be decided in the fall,” he noted.
The Mountaineers continue spring work later this afternoon. Look for Coach Dana Holgorsen’s post-practice remarks later this evening.