Casteel Preparing For Spring

While the coaching staff is concentrating on wrapping up this year's recruiting class, a review of last year's schemes is also underway in preparation for spring practice, which is just a couple of months away.

Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, who installed several new blitzes, stunts and other schemes for the Gator Bowl, believes that some of those things were effective, despite the lopsided score. And as a result, the Mountaineers will look to incorporate some of those changes, as well as revist some different formations, that they tried earlier in the season.

"We had some things that we liked going into the Gator Bowl," the Paden City, W. Va. native said. "We're going to continue to look at those. Each year brings a different look personnel-wise, and we think we have a lot of good young kids in the program.

"We played well in some areas on defense in the bowl game. But, we also had some guys who had uncharacteristically poor games, but that happens. Beilieve it or not, there were some good things we can build off of in that game."

In addition to the different blitz and coverage packages, WVU also experimented with putting Grant Wiley in the middle of the defense, the better to protect him from enemy blockers. Although it won't require a position move, the Mountianeers might well use some of the same strategies for middle backer Adam Lehnortt, who had an outstanding season that was somewhat lost in the record-breaking performances of Wiley and Brian King.

Some of those changes involved changing the alignment of the outside linebackers before the snap, in order to cut down on the offensive line's blocking angles. Others, while still under wraps, will probably be seen as spring practice commences.

Of course, one of the first questions Casteel always faces is about the pass rush and getting pressure on the quarterback, and area where the Mountaineers still need to improve. The candid coach admits that is one of his biggest goals going into 2004, but also notes that some of the things the defensive staff developed before the 2003 season went mostly unused.

"We were set to do a lot more four man fronts last year, and we used them some early on. Then we had some injuries in the secondary and that got us away from that formation. We think we have some good players to help us up front this season, but we need to have some guys who can win some one on one matchups for us."

One of those newcomers is Joe Sykes, who has finally made it to Morgantown after an extended junior college stay. Sykes is a good pass rusher and edge defender, but his position on the field has yet to be solidified.

"Joe Sykes is just getting started, so we need to wait and see what he does in the spring, but he definitely has some ability. Hopefully he's going to help," Casteel said. "We have some young defensive linemen that we are high on that we hope can continue to mature and get better."

Among those are Keilen Dykes, Pat Liebig, Warren Young, and Andrae Wright, all of whom will be counted on to bolster the depth and pass rushing ability of the front line. Dykes, in particular, has shown some promise as a rusher, and if West Virginia is able to make the switch to a four man front in some passing situations, the Mountaineers may be better positioned to harrass opposing quarterbacks in 2004. Some of WVU's defensive line players, such as Craig Wilson, may be better rushers when not lining up directly over an offensive lineman, so a switch in fronts could be beneficial to the returning linemen as well.

Of course, that's a long way in the future, and involves a lot of speculation. First comes spring practice, where a number of items Casteel and his staff have learned will be put to the test. And unlike most Mountaineer fans, who were able to toss their Gator Bowl tapes in the trash, Casteel has been spending long hours dissecting the game to find out what works and what doesn't.

"I've watched the film five or six times now, and that's part of the process," Casteel said with a rueful smile. "It gives you a bad feeling sometimes, but like I said before, there are things we can learn from that game."

Position moves are always another hot spring topic, and although several possible switches have been bandied about, Casteel isn't ready to pull the trigger on any just yet.

"I don't think right now we're looking at anybody moving, but we're always going to stick with getting our best 11 players on the field. Last year, at the beginning of the spring, we looked at moving Brian King to safety, and that turned out well. We looked at Jahmile Addae at either spur or bandit, but I think this year he'll stay at free safety. We looked at those moves as much to find a way to get Pac Man on the field as anything. That is always our goal - to get the best 11 on the field."

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