Co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Keith Patterson said he has seen considerable improvement this week in the play of West Virginia’s young defense.
What is most pleasing to Patterson is the give and take between the offense and the defense that has been going on so far during preseason camp. One day the offense will come out and perform well and then the next day the defense will come back and make a statement. Patterson said that’s how good teams are formed.
“It tells you that you are getting better as a team,” WVU’s first-year defensive coach explained earlier today. “There are days when we go out and challenge them. I thought we had a great day two days ago and [Friday] wasn’t a bad day - it was a good day - but the offense probably had the edge. Anytime you are going back and forth, it creates competition and it just makes for a better football team.”
Patterson said he is beginning to notice players becoming more detail-oriented and doing the things that they need to do to become successful. As far as the linebackers go, he says he’s got a bunch of guys who compliment each other well.
“They all have different styles of play. Am I satisfied where we are? No. Am satisfied where we are heading? I am. I can visibly see this week a change in some of them and it’s like the light clicked on,” Patterson said. “They are starting to understand the fronts, the front fits and how those change; all of the pass coverages, the concepts, and how you have to be multiple to stop spread offenses today.
Right now, Patterson is continuing to preach the basics with his linebackers before they can move on to more detailed things.
“What happens a lot of times is you start adding a lot of defenses and they start thinking, so you better have a good foundation,” he explained. “They better be in a good stance, they better be lined up and they better have their eyes on what they are supposed to be looking at - and then control their feet on the snap.
“What happens a lot of times is kids don’t go through their progressions and they end up playing by the seat of their pants and they are just out there playing on talent and when you do that, big plays are going to happen.”
According to Patterson, a good number of the big plays that are made in major college football today are the result of missed assignments and defenses not being properly lined up before the snap of the ball.
“Seventy percent of all big plays in Division I football come from misalignment or busted assignments,” he noted. “We are harping on them going through their progressions, get lined up and keep your eyes on what you’re supposed to look at. Then it’s their on-snap footwork, and then react, and let your God-given talent take over.”
Patterson has always been a positive coach by nature - something many of his players have repeatedly mentioned throughout camp. Patterson says he can coach his players hard without being demeaning to them.
“I ask every single one of my players for permission to coach them hard,” Patterson said. “Therefore, you teach them, you show them you care about them, you’re positive with them, but also on the same hand, you’ve got to be able to correct them when they are not giving maximum effort.
“You’ve got to be able to correct them - not only when they are not giving maximum physical effort, but also mental effort,” he said. “I think that’s what you see on the field a lot of times. We are going to be positive with them because that’s what we are playing with, so we’ve got to build those guys up and make them believe in themselves and believe in each other.”
As for his specific personnel, Patterson mentioned that a handful of linebackers have started to catch his eye this week.
“The guy who I’ve been very impressed with this week has been Doug Rigg,” he said. “He’s really stepped up and has had a great week. Shaq [Petteway] is learning how to play linebacker and playing behind his pads. It’s different when you get in there and you’re not a DB, so sometimes he gets knocked off is feet a little bit, but he really showed a lot of improvement this week.
“Jared Barber and Isaiah Bruce, I really like what I’m seeing from those guys, so I feel like I have four or five guys who I feel very strongly about and who are going to be playmakers,” Patterson said.
Petteway is one of the converted safeties Patterson is now working with in West Virginia’s new 3-4 scheme. In the past, Patterson has done well working with converted linebackers.
“I like big safeties that can grow into linebackers and a lot of those guys were former high school running backs and high school quarterbacks who have vision to the ball carrier,” he said. “It kind of eliminates some of the steps in the process. Running backs aren’t used to running into people, and they don’t tie up with offensive linemen a lot of times, so they’ll slip them and make plays. We’re closer to getting people into the right positions, and I don’t see a whole lot of other moves over the course of the next couple of weeks.
“We’re starting to settle in a little bit.”
In the coming days, Patterson hopes to see some leaders emerge on defense the way the offense has been able to develope its leaders. Actually, he said he is beginning to notice some of that now.
“You see guys out on the field taking some of those young guys and talking to them about here is how you should have played this particular play,” Patterson said. “When you start to see things like that – you have not necessarily arrived, but you are moving in the right direction. That is what I’ve seen more so this week than all through spring ball and the first part of camp.”
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