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In some respects, Qualls is very similar to former Mountaineer defensive star Canute Curtis. While Curtis played in a defensive scheme that was quite different from the current system employed by defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, the parallels are there. Curtis, like Qualls, could both rush the passer and drop into coverage (thus his position name of “rush linebacker”), and was very good at both. At this point, Qualls probably has a bit more mobility than Curtis, but not quite as much bulk against the run. Still, that's more than made up for with his speed and quickness, as he gets into the backfield constantly to disrupt plays.
For a team looking for more pass rush ability from the second level, Qualls could be the perfect fit. He's comfortable lining up on the line of scrimmage, but can also start snaps as an outside linebacker. He can easily move down to the line on obvious passing downs, but he's strong enough to not get washed away in the scrum of a power run.
In short, Qualls gives maximum versatility – a trait that is highly prized in West Virginia's current defensive scheme. A look at those that have excelled over the past few seasons show players who are skilled in multiple areas, and that's Qualls at this point.
When he lines up to face offensive tackles, Qualls is outsized. That's not a huge negative, as the Louisiana native has the speed and moves to counter. However, if foes try to run power in his direction, he has to be able to stand up to blocks from linemen on the move. Will he have the strength to last in that role over the course of the season? Can he fend off attempts to get him into close quarters battles where his speed isn't a factor?
WVU came up with several tactics to help another “tweener” – Bruce Irvin – maximize his abilities as a rusher, so it won't be a surprise to see those sorts of things employed to try to get Qualls into his comfort zone of rushing the passer. He'll likely get moved around, and positioned in different spots so that opposing pass protection systems can't target him in one place.
WVU is banking on junior college players to make an impact in 2017. That's not a negative in and of itself, but history shows that jucos and prep schoolers often take a year of acclimation before they are ready to contribute fully. There are exceptions, and WVU fans are seeing several of those on this year's team, including Justin Crawford and Elijah Battle. The hope is that this year's commitments can follow the same path, but there are no guarantees in that regard. Qualls does have a redshirt year available, but that would be a backup plan at this point.
In addition to his considerable performance talents, Qualls will also be coming to WVU along with interior defensive lineman Jalen Harvey. Having a friend and teammate to lean on during the acclimation period and introduction to Division I can be a help, and Harvey told BlueGoldNews.com that he was looking forward to having Qualls by his side when the duo graduates and hit campus.
While Qualls has a number of plus factors to consider, it's his pass rushing and disruptive capabilities that really draw the eye. With blitzing and pass pressure a constant focus (and an area of concern) for the Mountaineers defense, his addition is one more attempt to fix some of those lingering issues. The synergy that he and Harvey could potentially create in 2017 might, in the end, be more than the sum of their parts.