five questions that the 2003 edition of the Mountaineers needed to find answers for. Today, we look at the first of those five queries."> five questions that the 2003 edition of the Mountaineers needed to find answers for. Today, we look at the first of those five queries.">

Answering The Questions - 1

Before spring football practice began, we listed <a href="http://westvirginia.theinsiders.com/2/100981.html">five questions</A> that the 2003 edition of the Mountaineers needed to find answers for. Today, we look at the first of those five queries.

Question 1: Can a consistent pass rush be developed?

This question looks to have a two part answer.

First, no one defensive lineman jumped out during spring drills as a dominant pass rusher. Some of that, of course, is due to WVU's 3-3 stack alignment. With only three down linemen, and five offensive linemen to oppose them, it's difficult for a down lineman to mount a serious and consistent pass rush.

However, a defensive lineman has to occasionally defeat a blocker or a double team and get a sack or put pressure on the quarterback. That was not apparent during spring drills, and probably won't be a big part of West Virginia's defense this year. The Mountaineer defensive line had only 11 sacks all of last year, and that figure isn't likely to rise a great deal in 2003.

There are other ways to get pressure on the passer, however, and Jeff Casteel and the rest of the defensive staff worked on implementing some of those methods over the spring. A variety of different rush schemes, involving the linebackers, spurs and bandits, were studied and evaluated during April.

Some of those new schemes will be based on deception, as WVU will try to vary their looks, including placing more players on the line of scrimmage at times, and running more stunts and twists, in order to confuse opponents' blocking plans and get more pressure into the backfield. Others will involve the use of the Mountaineers' improved defensive speed on the edges to get pressure around the corner of the pocket.

All of that scheming comes at a cost, however. In their base defense, West Virginia was very effective against the run. Taking a defender out of his "normal" position and utilizing him as a blitzer or a pass rusher might weaken the run defense, so simply changing to a different scheme isn't a magic formula. Also, running a number of different looks or fronts can result in confusion for the defense.

After the defense installed some of these packages, they were better able to get pressure on the quarterbacks. However, the question remains as to whether the implementation of these strategies will fatally weaken the Mountaineers elsewhere on the defensive side of the football.

It's all a grand balancing act that will keep Casteel very busy through fall practice. In the end, however, it looks as if the Mountaineers will come up with a method of improving their pass rush. That doesn't mean that WVU will be atop the sack list in the Big East this fall, but some improvement should be evident.

Up next: Question 2: Can the passing game be improved enough to take some of the heat off the running attack?


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