Linebacker Isaiah Bruce played both the 3-3 and the 3-4 in high school, so he was familiar with the basic concepts of both systems before he ever set foot on the West Virginia campus. During the recruiting process, he thought that the 3-3 suited his talents the best, so WVU's offer immediately caught his attention. After arriving on campus, however, Bruce began to see things differently.
"In the beginning it was a little difficult," he said of his year in the 3-3. "I personally believe the 3-4 is easier to run than the stack. The stack was kind of hard for me to comprehend. This is easier. We watch a lot of film and go over it so much, it gets ingrained in your head."
One thing Bruce likes better in the current system is the potential for the number of defensive linemen in front of him.
"In the stack we had fewer anchor points," he said, referring to the players on the line of scrimmage. "Now that we have the DLine and the star and the buck, it makes it harder for the offense to pick it up and figure out who is coming."
Through the spring and fall camp, Bruce worked at the sam linebacker spot, and he remains there according to the most recent depth chart released by WVU. Around him, however, things weren't so stable, as Doug Rigg, Shaq Petteway and Nick Kwiatkoski, among others, shuffled positions. That isn't necessarily a negative, though. Some of those moves were simply the final step in getting the best players on the field, either in a starting or key backup role. It also gives the defense more flexibility to meet challenges posed by injury or specific offensive systems.
Bruce liked the moves, and notes that the structure of the will and sam linebacker spots lend themselves to position swaps.
"Our assignments are pretty much the same [at the inside linebacker positions]. On the inside it's pretty simple and straightforward. The moves should help, too. In the spring we didn't have much depth – it was just me and Nick Kwiatkoski. But now with Shaq coming in, that helps with the depth. He's a great addition."
Bruce, like most of his teammates, Bruce is excited about the move to the Big 12. He is confident in West Virginia's abilities, but is quick to show respect for the established league members.
"There are definitely bigger and faster people in the Big 12. We can't wait to play the competition. It's going to be fun and it's going to be fast. The better the competition, the more you have a chance to improve. The spread offense teams like to pass a lot, but stopping the run is still the key. But Coach Patterson still talks about stopping the run to make these teams more one-dimensional."
Bruce knows that even if the Mountaineers reach that initial goal on defense, slowing down opposing passing attacks from the prairie won't be easy.
"Quarterbacks, they are very smart," he said with a smile. "They see all the defenses, and they know what to do. We have to move around, make them check, make them have to look for only one receiver."