Lake Grows Into Middle Linebacker Role

Hometown linebacker Alex Lake has made steady progress up the depth chart at middle linebacker, and now finds himself poised for a good deal of game action in 2003.

Although Lake engages in a battle for time with starter Adam Lehnortt and fellow backup Jay Henry every day in practice, he also notes that they work to share information in order to improve.

"Everything is based on communication and film study," Lake said of the key items that help the linebackers get better. "With one a day practices, a lot of the learning is mental, and that's what we are focusing on. It's helped a lot, and we've been communicating a lot."

The extra film sessions have been helping Lake, who says that "knowing where you need to be" is the biggest challenge a middle linebacer has.

"There's a lot of information that you have to read before the play starts and during the play, so you have to get down to it and learn it. People mess up every day, but we keep working at it."

The communication that Lake speaks of extends not only vertically through the depth chart at middle linebacker, but also horizontally across the linebacking corps, which is the deepest defensive position on the team. There is enough quality depth at linebacker that the coaches feel comfortable in moving Rob backer Leandre Washington to spur on occasion.

That move also speaks to the comfort that the coaches feel with Lake and Henry. Henry has been working at both outside positions as well, which provides Jeff Casteel with even greater flexibility at the three linebacker spots.

Lake, like many players, notices a different feel to fall practice with the downsizing of two a days.

"It just feels different. It's harder on your mind than on your body - it's definitely a mental challenge. We're doing a lot more film work."

And while some players might view the extended film and teaching sessions as just another class, Lake believes that the coaching staff is doing everything they can to keep the team's attention as the videotapes roll.

"Film is different every day. There's always something different, and the coaches alwyas have something new to show us. It's never the same old routine," Lake said.

In addition to film work, Lake, like many of his teammates, put in long hours over the summer. And although his strength improved, Lake thinks that his speed and quickness saw the greatest gains since the end of last season.

"I was able to increase my speed by working on my mechanics. Mike Barwis is a great coach, and he breaks it down into parts. The way you spread off your feet, strenghtening your legs, everything. They just break it down and emphasize each part."

The result, at least one hopes, is a faster team, and a faster defense. And Lake believes that will be the biggest difference that Mountaineer fans will see on the defensive side of the ball.

"Speed, and the way we react to the ball, are going to be the big differences. We did a great job last year, but I think this year with the work everyone put in this summer, I think we're a lot faster. And I think that's going to show up on Saturdays."

Lake also hopes to use that speed to get to the quarterback more quickly. With West Virginia working on some new rush schemes and trying to increase pressure on opposing quarterbacks, Lake has gotten the chance to head into the offensive backfield more frequently this fall. And that, of course, is what every linebacker loves.

"It's always more fun to go and hit somebody than wait around on someone," Lake said with a smile. Hopefully, he'll be displaying that same expression to opposing ball carriers on a frequent basis this fall.

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