Freer To Roam

If there's one player on the Mountaineer defense that figures to benefit from West Virginia's change in defensive schemes, it's senior linebacker Josh Francis. After something of a lost season as a junior, the Maryland native believes that the new defense fits his attacking, pursuing style better than the controlling, read and react system of the past -- although assignments are still part of it.

Ever since West Virginia's revamped its defensive coaching staff and scrapped the 3-3-5 look, a good percentage of the Mountaineer fan base has been enthralled. They believe that the new system will fix all of the "problems" inherent in the old scheme and allow WVU's defenders to run wild all over the field.

While it's true that defensive linemen are encouraged to get into gaps and upfield, there are still basic tenets that both systems hold, and that must be executed correctly to work. First off, the assignment of gap control is still inherent. Defenders must make sure those holes are covered, just as they are in any system. Linebackers can't rush off on their own seek-and-destroy missions – they still have to read their keys and play within the framework of the team. However, within the overall plan of getting those things done, there is some more freedom, an inherent looseness, that could allow players such as Francis to thrive.

"I like to move around a lot, and the position I play allows me to move more fluidly," Francis said of the buck spot where he is fighting for playing time. "There are fewer responsibilities, and with that more freedom. I can move around. Being stationary, that's not my style of play. This just gives me more field to roam.

"In the 3-3-5 you are engaged with linemen a lot," he continued. "I've never done that on every play. In this defense, you aren't engaged every play. There are fewer assignments, and more action, in this defense. You get to the gaps a lot quicker in the 3-4 compared to other positions."

Francis cautions, however against those that think he's just running around chasing his choice of targets.

"You have to read your keys, but after that its doing what I like to do. You do have to be patient because you can't overrun your gap. But as long as you are going through the checks in your mind, you will be fine. I like to have fun, and being free."

What Francis likes to do, first and foremost, is get after the quarterback, and that figures to be his primary role in 2012. During the Gold-Blue spring football game, he showed great speed coming off the corner in the pass rush, and with West Virginia looking to replace the 23 sacks that departed with Bruce Irvin to the NFL, he'll likely get every chance to fill that role. However, he's quick to deflect any attempts to categorize himself as a one-trick pony.

"I believe I can stand up against the run," said Francis, who has added 10 pounds to get to his current weight of 224. "I played against LSU last year and got tackles against a 285-pound fullback. I weighed less then, so I think I can stand up against running teams."

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