"We lost Will and Shaq and everybody's making a big deal about that," said Rose, listed as the starter at end. "I wouldn't say it's making me mad, but we have just as much experience on this D-line as we did last season. We have Dontrill (Hyman) and Christian (Brown) and Noble (Nwachukwu), I could name everybody. It makes me mad, because I know what I see when I see this defensive line. I have been here for four years. This one, we've jelled the best together and we play hard and we get to the ball. Everybody says ‘They aren't that explosive.' But I think that's just what people think because we lost Will and Shaq. We are going to surprise some people."
The Mountaineers are clearly blessed with some size and depth along the three-man front. Hyman, the starter opposite Rose, is 6-4, 294 pounds, Brown goes 6-3, 304 pounds, and Rose is as solid a 6-4, 293 pounds as they come. The senior-sophomore-junior set-up brings plenty of experience, albeit not much of the starting variety, which has given position coach Tom Bradley encouragement. Bradley noted he was pleased with the group thus far, and believes there is sufficient size to plug opposing fronts effectively in the Big 12.
It's not that Rowell and Clarke won't be missed, at least initially. Rowell started 24 of the last 25 games of his career, and totaled 97 tackles, six for loss, while providing a huge cog in the middle at 6-4, 305 pounds.
Clarke, with his long arms and NFL body (6-7, 273 lbs.), was a three-year starter and the best thing off the edge for the Mountaineers since fellow NFL player Bruce Irvin. Clarke's 17 tackles for loss – including six sacks – won't be replaced by any one defender. But Rose is correct when he notes that this unit, as a whole, could well perform better than either of the previous two for those most downtrodden of West Virginia defenses.
"It makes me mad, because I know what I see when I see this defensive line. I have been here for four years. This one, we've jelled the best together and we play hard and we get to the ball." -Kyle Rose
"You are gonna have different coaches and schemes. The technique will come. New coaches, new schemes, new strategies," Rose said. "You just have to roll with that. Our strength staff has done an excellent job of getting us ready for this schedule."
Which will test WVU early with preseason NCAA playoff candidates in Alabama and Oklahoma among the more physically imposing lines in college football. Both teams are likely favorites to win their league, with the Sooners a shoe-in as the top pick in the Big 12. As for Alabama, if nothing else, it serves as a litmus test, and is as big a motivating factor as anything outside of the 4-8 mark from a season ago.
"We gotta work," said Nwachukwu, a redshirt sophomore and Texas native backing up Hyman at end. "We think about (4-8) every time we go on the field. It's on our mind every workout, every morning. It's something we think about all the time. (The opener) is another game. We gotta go play. I have those days when K wake up and don't want to get up, but you have to remind yourself what you are working for. We should be more motivated this year, and playing with more of a chip on our shoulder. We are bigger, faster. We should be good. We just gotta have the mindset, that's all it is."
That might start with Rose. The de facto defensive line leader, Rose has 25 career games played, with seven starts. He made 49 stops, 8.5 for loss, last season, and isn't afraid to speak his mind while busting it has hard as any Mountaineer. He's really the definition of what this unit should hope to become, a perhaps underrated playmaker whose steady, though not flashy, performance is simply effective above all else.
"The first game, you don't even have to say it. You know who we are playing," Rose said. "We know who they are and we aren't scared one bit. We are ready to go and we have it marked on our calendar. We are getting ready in the weight room and schematically. I don't look at the schedule as being brutal. I look at it as an opportunity. The bigger teams you beat, the higher up you go. We are ready to roll. Let's play some football."