West Virginia University sophomore linebacker Jared Barber
doesn’t really see much difference between the defense he was asked to play last year under Jeff Casteel and the one he is being asked to play this year under Joe DeForest.
Both are designed to get to the football in a hurry with the objective of getting the ball back into the hands of the offense as quickly as possible.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘How is the switch to the new defense?’ Really I don’t see a huge difference like everyone is making it out to be,” Barber said earlier this month. “We’ve still got three (defensive linemen) in front of us and we’re bringing four a lot of times but it’s still a three-front. From a linebacker standpoint, I don’t see too much difference.”
Of course there are some nuances. In Jeff Casteel’s 3-3 stack (which is basically a 3-4) the defensive linemen were head-up on the offensive linemen with their No. 1 objective being to occupy blockers. In the current scheme, D-linemen are doing more angling and shading and Barber believes that will alter how the linebackers play a little bit behind them.
“It does mess with our run fits a little bit and the way we scrape over the top because of the guys in front of us, but I don’t think it’s a huge difference,” he said.
The previous scheme put a lot of pressure on the linebackers and the safeties to make plays, particularly in the running game, but according to Barber the new scheme they are playing this year allows everyone to become playmakers.
“Once we get more comfortable playing in this defense I might say, OK, if (defensive tackle) Jorge (Wright) is shaded and we get a stretch play to the right and if Jorge fights across it I’ll take his back and we’ll switch. I think it’s going to help a lot and bring a lot of excitement to the entire defense,” Barber said.
With college football today becoming so much more of an offensive-centric game, creating turnovers is now one of the key statistics being used to measure defenses, oftentimes instead of yardage allowed. Permitting an offense to gain more than 400 yards in a game is not such a huge deal anymore. Barber explains.
“They can start at the 5 yard line and drive it down to the 15, but if we take the ball away, what’s the big deal with the yards they get? That’s the way I look at it,” Barber said.
DeForest has emphasized turnovers from the moment he got to WVU and the defensive players are beginning to take that to heart.
“Last year, we focused on turnovers a lot but this year I remember Coach DeForest came in the first day and he said, ‘We’re going to try and get 46 turnovers in the spring.’ I was like, ‘There is no way that is happening.’ It sounded ridiculous, but I’m pretty sure we ended up getting 46 exactly with the spring game and everything,” Barber said. “After every practice during the spring we did turnover circuit and that helped a lot. Guys were flying around to the ball and getting after it and I think it’s definitely going to help. (DeForest) said last year at Oklahoma State they had a lot of takeaways and obviously it helped with how well they did.”
However, going after turnovers can sometimes be a risky proposition because it could lead to the defense giving up some big plays. That is something Barber said his teammates must overcome.
“You can’t even think about it,” he said. “If you give up a big play you’ve got to come back and hit them in the mouth on the next play. If you give up a good play then take the ball away.”
Barber got his feet wet last year as a true freshman, first playing on special teams and then seeing action as a backup middle linebacker. All told, he accumulated 23 tackles, two tackles for losses and three pass breakups in a very productive first season.
The Mocksville, N.C., resident said the experience he got last year was invaluable - especially his very first college play as a middle linebacker. Barber can remember the circumstances very clearly: West Virginia was playing Louisville and the defensive staff had a blitz called that he failed to execute properly.
“I forgot what the call was but I was supposed to be blitzing the A-gap and, honestly, I’m pretty sure I came off the outside and that was not anywhere close to where I was supposed to be and I got ripped pretty good for that one,” he chuckled.
Despite playing for different coaches in a slightly different system, the lessons Barber learned last season as a freshman will only help him when he returns to the field this fall as a sophomore.
“Even being in a different scheme, what I learned last year, and growing as a football player mentally and physically, helped me so much with the ins and outs of football,” Barber explained. “You come in from high school and you think know a lot about football and you know the game but you really don’t until you get to college, so last year definitely helped.”
Overall, Barber said he has enjoyed playing in both systems.
“I loved last year’s staff and I love this year’s staff,” he said. “They are all great coaches and when you get to know them off the field they are great people, too. Last year’s staff was a little more in-your-face you could say, and for some kids that works well and this year’s staff … they are definitely in your face if you do something wrong or don’t hustle to the ball they are going to get after you, but at the same time, if you mess up they want to show you what you did wrong and give you a pat on the back and say ‘you can do it’ and things like that.
“That goes well with a bunch of the guys that we have.”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.