West Virginia spent several of its pre-Christmas practices focusing on young player development and reps for backups. That's become a common trope for the benefits a bowl brings, but in some cases it can serve as a nice springboard for spring practices and the enusing season. For the Mountaineer defense, loaded as it is with six senior starters and another four in primary backup roles, that development is going to be crucial. Senior linebacker Shaq Petteway, one of the trio of final year players manning the second level of the defense, saw some of his younger teammates making headway during those sessions. Mentioning defenders such as redshirt freshman Daejuan Funderburk, freshman 'backer David Long and regular backup Al-Rasheed Benton (still a redshirt sophomore), Petteway sees promise for the future.
Still, a handful of practices against fellow backups and youngsters isn't an immediate predictor of success in the future. While Benton might be ready to take over at the mike spot for departing senior Jared Barber, the other freshmen and redshirts still have a good bit of work to do before they are ready to play. The Mountaineer defense will have an entirely different look in 2016, and some of the youngsters who got work during the pre-Christmas portion of the bowl schedule will be counted on to contribute on next year's squad.
In addition to the rearward view of the players coming up behind him, Petteway also spoke on his kinship with fellow senior Jared Barber. The duo arrived at West Virginia together in 2011, and both had enough talent to play immediately and contribute to the Mountaineer defense and special teams. Their parallels continued as they worked their way into more regular play on the defense, but what they'll perhaps both be remembered for the most is another parallel - being forced to sit out an entire season due to knee injuries. Petteway's caused him to miss the entire 2013 season, while Barber's occured late in that year and forced a redshirt in 2014. Hailing from two entirely different cultures (Petteway is from the steel town of Steubenville, Oh., while Barber hails from rural North Carolina), the duo had formed a fast friendship by the time the injuries sidelined them. Although Petteway had progressed through much of his rehab when Barber sustained his knee injury, the two continued to support each other as their careers rebounded. Now, with a week to go before their final game, they are hoping to write one final successful chapter to their Moutaineer careers.