Maximum Versatility

West Virginia linebacker Najee Goode laughs about being listed as the starter at two different positions on the Mountaineers' spring depth chart, but he also takes the underlying meaning and responsibility that comes with that unusual situation very seriously.

Spring football depth charts are exercises in guesswork at best, but this year at WVU the putative roster of positions is even more shaky than usual. A new offensive system, combined with a raft of new faces on defense, mean that the chart put out by the football program doesn't reflect the day-to-day lineups seen on the practice field. The coaching staff noted that from the outset of the spring, but even so, it's the height of oddity to see a player listed as a starter at two different spots. Scan the list, however, and there's Goode as the #1 at both sam and will linebacking spots.

Of course, defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel doesn't expect Goode to play both positions simultaneously, so why the listing? Goode, after laughing a bit about that, shares his takeaway on the unique situation.

"It's different," he said with a big smile, "but it's about really trying to get the other guys to learn. I have no problem with it just from playing those positions, so when [the other players] ask me questions I know what they mean. I know what they are going through in learning the positions, so I can help them out."

No one on the 2011 linebacking corps comes close to matching Goode's experience, so his role as a teacher as well as an anchor in the unit was almost preordained. His mastery extends beyond the outside spots, however, as he has also played in the middle, making him a unique three-position performer in Casteel's defense. That will make him even more valuable both on and off the field, as he can play any of the three spots, and also provide guidance to the youngsters and newcomers vying for playing time.

That experience began as a walk-on redshirt freshman, when Goode, after garnering early notice, played in all 13 games in 2008, collecting 12 tackles.

"I went from playing the will at Colorado to the mike at Pittsburgh, Goode said, recalling the start of his linebacking odyssey. Then, as a sophomore, I played all three positions. Last year, I played mostly the sam, and a little bit of will, so I've been at all of them. I take it as a compliment that my coaches trust me, and also as motivation to keep me going."

Goode always seemed to be overshadowed by fellow 'backers who received more press and notoriety, but he has always been ready to step in wherever he has been needed. Last year, in a starting role on the strong side, he had 47 tackles, broke up four passes and recorded three sacks, whetting his appetite for that spot.

"I liked this past year playing the sam," he said when asked if he had a favorite among the three. "We get to blitz a lot, and Coach Casteel is all about us moving around and disguising. We get to move around, and that's a lot of fun."

For his part, Casteel knows he has something of an ace in the hole with Goode, and plans on playing that card wherever it best helps the defense. Early in the spring, that appears to be at sam, with Josh Francis at will and Branko Busick at the mike, but its still early days in that regard. Casteel is perhaps just as impressed with Goode's maturation into a leadership role.

"In the linebacker room he has taken over for J.T. Thomas and Anthony Leonard and Pat Lazear, and he's having a great spring. He's excited. Eventually we'll remove him from some of the reps, because he knows what he's doing, and we can get some of the other guys some work. He's playing really well right now, and we can use him as an 'assistant coach' a little bit."

Goode probably never envisioned himself being in that role early in his Mountaineer career, when he came to WVU as a walk-on fighting for just a spot on the team. Four years later, though, he's the acknowledged leader of Casteel's crew.

"Naj can play all of the positions, and that's what made him so valuable for us. I can insert him any place," Casteel said.

Goode certainly takes pride on hearing those compliments, but he's also intent on continuing to improve, both personally and in building the skills of those that follow.

"I just want to keep improving my game," he said of his personal goals for 2011. "A good player brings himself up and helps out the rest of the defense. I don't want to be selfish. I just want to make plays and help the unit. In the spring, Coach Stewart wants us to work on chemistry and team building and helping with the new guys rolling in. That's a good thing, because if you have guys that play together, you can't be beat."


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