It's no secret the West Virginia defense struggled a year ago. But, if there was a bright spot, it was freshmen standouts Isaiah Bruce
and Karl Joseph
. Now, as they begin preparing for their second seasons in the Mountaineer program, the duo find themselves as leaders on a unit looking to rebound.
In 2012, the two led the entire defense in tackles. Joseph had a team-leading 104 stops, while his counterpart Bruce had 94. But, their individual successes didn’t carry over to success of the entire defensive unit. That group, which ranked eighth in the Big 12 and 108th in the country, left last season with a chip on their shoulder wanting to prove the doubters wrong.
“Everybody has a set goal, and no one wants to be ranked that low ever again,” Bruce said. “We’re all competitors and no one wants to be that low in the rankings. We have a high standard of getting better and shocking the world.”
There were flashes a season ago of just how good the defense could be, but it’s the hundreds of yards and endless touchdowns the defense allowed that most likely will be remembered. The unit was young – Bruce and Joseph as freshmen were starting – but that wasn’t an excuse. Bruce said the defense is beginning to understand what it’s going to take to reach a higher level – playing together as a unit - not as one member of an 11-member group.
“Everyone is trying to make plays,” he said. “When you try to make a play, it takes you out of position of your job. It ends up hurting the team. If everyone isn’t on the same page, it creates a weakness.”
Joseph and Bruce both made their shares of plays. Aside from leading the team in tackling, each had two interceptions, which also led the team. Bruce recovered two fumbles, while Joseph recovered one of the three he forced.
Getting to play as a cohesive unit could fall on the shoulders of the two sophomores. Joseph said that he and Bruce are now looked upon as leaders on unit.
“I like to be a leader by example,” Joseph said.
He’s been able to do that during this summer’s player-coordinated individual workouts. He said the team is bonding more this off-season and is starting to build more chemistry before camp.
Now as develops into one of the team leaders, Joseph says he is putting himself under a microscope as his own critic, on the field and in the film room.
“I like to watch film of myself. I see all the mistakes that I make as far as my footwork and my play on coverages,” Joseph said. “I still have to work hard. I’m still learning a lot from the coaches and trying to get this defense better.”
The two are hard on themselves so they can help lead the resurgence of the defense. But, neither believes the pressure rests entirely on the defense.
“It’s hard to say exactly who has the most pressure,” Bruce said. “As an entire team, we’ve been through struggles, everything as far as the offense losing some key players and defense didn’t have the ideal season that we wanted. It’s going to be pressure on everybody.”
“We walk around with a chip on our shoulder, because everybody doesn’t expect us to be good this year,” Joseph concluded. “So we’re using that as motivation."