Just one year ago West Virginia's defense was being billed as the top unit in the Big 12, with names such as Nick Kwiatkoski, Karl Joseph, K.J. Dillon and Daryl Worley returning to set the tone for the season and carry the Mountaineers despite an unproven offense. Just one year later the script has completely flipped. All of the aforementioned names are currently preparing for their rookie seasons in the NFL and Tony Gibson is looking for his next set of "Dawgs" to step up and play in his 3-3-5 scheme. But it's not a complete rebuilding job, as there is one unit that returns a wealth of snaps, talent and experience: the defensive line.
As Christian Brown prepares for his last fall camp he knows that his unit must anchor the defense and set the example for younger and inexperienced players in the practices leading up to the season. Brown is prepared for what might be the most intense fall camp in his five years in Morgantown.
"Coach (Bruce Tall) says this is going to be the hardest camp we go through," Brown said. "These last couple of years the camp as far as intensity has been normal, but this year I think that the intensity level is going to rise and that will make the offense and defense better so we can go out there and win."
Brown recognizes that his unit, which includes three seniors, will be depended on to give the leadership that last years linebacking corp and defensive backs provided.
"It starts with the seniors," Brown, a senior himself, said. "The seniors have to bring all of the young people up. We have to show them the ropes, tell them the right things to do, tell them how to practice and basically just show them how we practice."
The other two defensive linemen include returning Big 12 sack leader Noble Nwachukwu at defensive end and fourth year senior Darrien Howard at nose tackle. Howard is a first year starter but has seen plenty of meaningful snaps pacing Kyle Rose over the last three seasons. Part of the reason the defensive line is so strong is the return of defensive line coach Bruce Tall, who is making his second stop at West Virginia after coaching in Jeff Casteel's version of the 3-3-5 under Rich Rodriguez from 2003-2007. This is Brown's second season playing under Tall and he realizes the impact the veteran coach has had in his maturation as a player.
"(Tall) is a great coach," Brown said. "He basically knows the whole defense so it's a blessing to have him here coaching us and we're just going to keep learning from him."
Nwachukwu's presence on the defensive line also provides Brown with the competitive drive to improve and become an All-Big 12 defender in his own right.
"Between me and Noble there's always competition," Brown admitted. "We have been like that since we first got here. I was very proud of him leading the Big 12 in sacks so that means I have to step my game up. I have to go out there and get a couple more sacks and help the defense bring big wins and championships."
Brown may also be called to move inside to help spell Darrien Howard at times this year. The depth at nose tackle took a hit when Dana Holgorsen revealed that redshirt sophomore Jaleel Fields would be out for the season after undergoing knee surgery in the offseason. Brown anticipates staying outside but it will depend on how game-ready redshirt freshman Alec Shriner is after another month of practice and preparation. But right now Brown says his focus is just on improving every day and focusing on execution.
"Right now we're just trying to focus on ourselves,"Brown said. "We're just trying to execute all of the plays that coach Gibson calls."