STORYLINES TO WATCH The Bradley Effect Much like the rest of the Mountaineer defense, the defensive line is expected to get a big lift thanks to the addition of Tom Bradley to the coaching staff. The longtime Penn State defensive coordinator is bringing a new attitude to the WVU defensive line. Riddick's debut After a few years of not having a reliable pass rusher to get to the quarterback, it looks like WVU could have found that this season in Shaq Riddick. The Gardner-Webb defensive end was an FCS all-American a year ago and has one year of eligibility remaining. He was the best defensive end at that level and had 8.5 sacks a year ago. Leadership emerges With departures of players like Shaq Rowell and Will Clarke, WVU’s next leader on the defensive line could be an experienced player like Kyle Rose. Rose has played every position and could be the heart of the defensive line while permanently making the move to nose tackle this season.
West Virginia’s defensive line has been a unit that has been improving fairly consistently over the course of the last few seasons.
But a couple of big acquisitions could help put this year’s group closer to where it wants to be, and oddly enough, neither of those acquisitions were players who will be on the field contributing.
When the Mountaineers brought in Tom Bradley to come in to coach the defensive line alongside former Miramar High School head coach Damon Cogdell, it gave the WVU defensive line a ton of much-needed energy heading into the season.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said junior defensive lineman Kyle Rose. “He’s a high-energy guy and that’s what we like to have. This year, I think we kind of have our youth back.”
The WVU defensive line has pushed itself to perform to a bit of a higher standard this season, given Bradley’s pedigree in the coaching ranks. As the longtime defensive coordinator under Joe Paterno at Penn State, Bradley coached many of the best defensive units in college football and helped produce a lot of successful players at both the college and professional levels.
Now that he is at WVU, it has taken some time to get used to his new surroundings. From learning new players to getting adjusted to a different schedule than he was used to during more than three decades in Happy Valley, it’s been something Bradley has definitely had to feel out in his first few months.
“It’s different. At Penn State, the playbook was just in my head – I didn’t even have to look at it. I didn’t need to look at a practice schedule, I knew exactly how the tempo was going to go. I knew all of it,” Bradley said. “When you’re with a staff for that long, you know what buttons to push with each other if you want something done.
“This group here is doing a great job. We have a vision of where we want to take this defense and that’s really the nice thing. We have a group of guys who have sat down and can see the problems we’ve had. This is such a great room and I’m really excited to be a part of it.”
Now that he’s gotten the hang of things at WVU, the next step for Bradley has been to get adjusted to the players they have and what they are able to do. After being stuck without much depth the last few years, they’re finally starting to see some resemblances of the depth that is going to be needed to contribute on a consistent basis in Big 12 play.
“You’ve got to have some depth because you’re going to need it as the season progresses. You’d like to stay injury-free, but when I look back over the years, it never works out that way,” Bradley said. “That’s not going to happen. Guys are going to get hurt and you’ve got to have the depth and the next guy has to be ready to step up. The next guy’s got to man up and do it. So that’s one of the things you try to do in preseason is to develop that depth.”
With both Bradley and Cogdell working with the defensive line, there has been a delicate balance to strike as the coaches have figured out a way to work together and get the best out of all of the players on their unit.
As Cogdell has started to get used to his first season coaching at the college level, having Bradley there to help mentor him along the way has helped, and the two of them have taken different approaches in coaching the D-line.
“They’re basically two opposites. They both have the same style – which is good for us – but they do things a little differently,” said junior defensive lineman Eric Kinsey. “Coach Cogdell is all about your attitude and how that dictates a lot of things you do and Coach Bradley is about just getting out there and doing it, doesn’t matter if you like it or not you have to get your job done.
“They both want football to be fun and they want us on the same page to get our jobs done.”
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
1. Shaq Riddick, Senior
2013 (at Gardner-Webb): 67 tackles, 19 TFL, 8.5 sacks
2. Noble Nwachukwu, Sophomore
2013: Five tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack
1. Kyle Rose, Junior
2013: 49 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 1 sack
2. Darrien Howard, Sophomore
2013: Six tackles
1. Christian Brown, Sophomore
2013: Three tackles (missed eight games due to injury)
2. Dontrill Hyman, Senior
2013: 18 tackles, 3.5 TFL
3. Eric Kinsey, Junior
2013: 15 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack
What they're saying
"He's more of a Will Clarke or Julian Miller type. He can run, he probably runs in the 4.5 range. The one thing that I will compare him to Bruce with is that he understands what to do when the ball is snapped and how to get after the quarterback and that's a good thing.”
- Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson on Shaq Riddick
“With the defense we play, you kind of need the quicker guys off the edge. I just wasn't that fast off the ball on the outside. Moving me to the inside, I definitely was able to create more of an impact for us by taking on blockers and making sure that Nick and Isaiah can make plays. That's kind of my job is to eat blockers and let those guys make some plays while making some myself as well.”
- Nose guard Kyle Rose
Meet the newcomers
Three freshmen signed with WVU back in February and added their names to the roster for the 2014 season, but all eyes are on upperclassman Shaquille Riddick, who came to the Mountaineers as a postgraduate transfer from Gardner-Webb, where he was an FCS All-America pick in 2013 after recording 8.5 sacks, 19 stops behind the line and 17 QB hurries in his final season for the Bulldogs. Riddick, who earned his degree from G-W over the summer, has but one year of eligibility remaining, but it is on him that a good bit of WVU's defensive line pass rush hopes are staked.
At "just" 245 pounds, Riddick might not be equipped to slug it out for 60 plays with Big 12 offensive tackles in the trenches, but the hope is that he can use an array of pass rushing moves to help bolster the Mountaineers' anemic pressure up front. He showed the ability to do that during fall camp, so the final test in front of him is to do the same in league competition. He can't just be a one-trick pony, however; otherwise foes will target him in the run game whenever he makes an appearance. The obvious comparison for Riddick is Bruce Irvin, but the former comes to the Mountaineers with much better technique and a great deal more of experience, even though it is against FCS competition.
The three scholarship freshmen in the class (Yodny Cajuste, Jaleel Fields and Tyree Owens) show promise, but are all slated for redshirts. Fields has the potential to be an anchor on the interior, while Owens could end up being the bigger defensive end with a combination of skills against the run and the past that WVU has long searched for. Austin Fields, who walked on from nearby Belle Vernon High School, is likewise destined for a redshirt in his first year in the program.
BGN publisher Kevin Kinder contributed to this report.