In the past, when West Virginia has fielded good football teams, the Mountaineers also usually fielded good defensive lines as well.
The D-line West Virginia put out on the field for its 2012 Orange Bowl victory over Clemson included tackle Julian Miller, nose Jorge Wright and defensive end Will Clarke
. Seattle first-round draft pick Bruce Irvin was actually Clarke’s backup against Clemson that night.
In 2008, when WVU upset favored Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, the Mountaineers’ starting defensive line consisted of Scooter Berry at tackle, Keilen Dykes at nose and Johnny Dingle at end. The backup nose that season was freshman Chris Neild, now a member of the Washington Redskins.
The Sugar Bowl team in 2005 had a defensive line that featured Keilen Dykes at tackle, Ernest Hunter at nose and Craig Wilson at end – three pretty solid college players.
In 1996, when West Virginia led the country in total defense, the front four that year consisted of consensus All-American rush linebacker Canute Curtis, nose tackle John Thornton, defensive tackle Henry Slay and defensive end Bob Baum with their backups being Kevin Landolt, Gary Stills, Charlton Forbes and Ryan Price.
The 1994 Sugar Bowl team had a starting D-line consisting of Barry Hawkins, Scott Gaskins, Darrick Wiley and Steve Perkins. Long-time Kansas City Chief John Browning was Gaskins’ backup at left tackle during the ’93 season.
And in 1989, when West Virginia faced Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl for the national championship, the Mountaineers that year had a starting defensive front consisting of Renaldo Turnbull, Chris Parker, Jim Gray and Mike Fox.
Five good teams with five good D-lines.
It remains to be seen how successful this year’s team will be, but the Mountaineers do have the makings of a pretty good defensive line with five of the six players listed on last spring’s defensive line two-deep boasting extensive playing experience, including returning starters Will Clarke
and Shaq Rowell
Sophomore defensive end Kyle Rose
appeared in all 13 games last season while sophomore Eric Kinsey
– listed No. 2 behind Clarke at defensive tackle – and Christian Brown
– Rowell’s backup at nose – also received playing time as first-year freshmen in 2012.
Only promising redshirt freshman defensive end Noble Nwachukwu
, listed No. 2 behind Rose, has yet to taste collegiate action, which should bode well for a Mountaineer defense that experienced great difficulty stopping people last season.
“It is pretty evident that guys like Shaq Rowell
can play,” WVU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said earlier this spring. “If you can create depth behind guys like him it is going to make you a better football team.”
Other guys up front such as Korey Harris
, Dozie Ezemma
and Trevor Demko
could also factor into Patterson’s plans this season. And there are even more players on the way.
Arizona Western College linebacker d’Vante Henry has received rave reviews for his playmaking ability and could be utilized right away as an edge pass rusher, defensive end Dontrill Hyman has the credentials to provide quality depth up front after recording 21 ½ sacks and earning second team JUCO All-American honors in 2011, Baltimore prep defensive end Marvin Gross looks like a promising playmaker off the edge and Dayton-Chaminade linebacker Darrien Howard might already be big enough to get a look up front when he arrives sometime this summer.
If a couple of those newcomers come in ready to go this fall, and some of the younger guys like Christian Brown
continue to improve, the Mountaineers might have a pretty good defensive line when training camp begins in August.
“I think our depth is pretty good,” noted Brown. “We’ve got some more players coming in, so that will depend on how they produce.”
It will also depend on how young guys like Brown produce, too.
The Bridgeton, N.J., resident, standing 6-feet-3 and weighing 308 pounds, is one of West Virginia’s biggest defenders. He saw action in 11 games last year as a true freshman and produced 11 tackles, including eight solos, to go with two tackles for losses and a forced fumble.
Brown clearly looks the part and is one of the guys you want getting off the team bus first, now, he’s got to become even more of a disruptive force when he’s out on the field.
“Last year got me a head start on things,” Brown noted earlier this spring. “Once you get it down pat and once you know the things you need to do, it’s a lot easier to go out there on the field. When game day is here and the stadium is packed with all that noise, it’s crazy.”
Like most first-time players, Brown admits it took him a little while to get comfortable out on the field.
“I caught myself looking up a lot (at the fans in the stands),” he said. “I just looked to see all these people and it was crazy, but it was a good experience though.”
Brown is one of the guys defensive line coach Erik Slaughter was after during spring practices to make sure that he is fulfilling his potential. Those close to the program believe Brown has the makings of being a pretty good player if he can become more consistent.
“Sometimes (Slaughter) will get on me and tell me things I need to do when he feels like I’m slacking,” said Brown. “If I’m doing something bad he’s going to let me know. He knows what I’m capable of doing and he expects that from me every day.”
Brown believes West Virginia already has the pieces in place to field a formidable defensive line this year if everyone works hard this summer and continues to improve when they get back out on the field in the fall.
“We’ve just got to get out there and go get it,” Brown explained. “We’ve got to work for it. I know everybody in the Big 12 thinks we’ve got the worst defense, but we’re going to prove people wrong.”
If that does happen, Brown says it will be because of the commitment put forth by everyone to get better this summer.
“As far as last season, you can’t fall off more,” he said. “You’ve just got to progress and improve on every little thing. Last year, we depended upon three people so now that those three people left, as a team, we’ve got to all get together and work hard.”
That work has already begun.