Making A Pile

Mountaineer nose tackle Craig Wilson has been a key, if unnoticed, factor in WVU's improved defensive line play this spring.

Although it rarely gets much notice, the play of the nose tackle is crucial to the success, or lack thereof, of many offensive plays. It's a simple man-on-man battle. If the nose can stand his ground, keep from being moved, and protect his linebackers, the defense is going to have success, especially in stopping the run. If he gets turned or pushed aside, however, good gains on the ground usually result.

The Mountaineer defensive line has shown improvement this spring for several reasons. Along with increased depth and size, the play of Wilson has been one of those factors.

"I just try to keep the center off of me," Wilson said after WVU's scrimmage on Saturday. "Coach Kirelawich wants me to get my hands on the center and not get knocked out of the crease. Then I need to keep the center off the linebacker. Basically, I just make a pile and destruct everything up front. That's my job."

Wilson has the perfect body type for the rigors of the game inside. At 6-1 (which might be stretching it a bit) and 275 pounds, the Louisiana native has a very strong lower body and good explosive power to use in his battles with opposing centers. In addition to those natural gifts, he's adding more technical work that should make him an even more formidable foe.

"I always was explosive and could come off the ball, but when I first came here last year my hands were wrong," Wilson explained. "I would have them outside and get beat a lot. Coach Kirelawich has helped me learn to keep my hands inside, and that has made me a much better player."

Of course, the basis for strong defensive play isn't all about the crundhing head to head battles on the ball. Wilson notes that the defense is starting to get more comfortable with some of the scheme changes that have been installed since the end of last year, and with the players executing them.

"I think the defense is getting familiar with the changes that have been made," said Wilson. "We're getting to know how the linebackers fit in, and the linemen are playing well. We're just playing hard-nosed, and we're trying to come out and play hard every day."

Wilson and his teammates up front are also getting used to some new faces in the positions just behind them, which also has an effect on their performance. The loss of Grant Wiley and the absence Adam Lehnortt as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery has meant that a number of players who saw little or no action last year are getting first team snaps.

As those players work to prove themselves, they also have to familiarize themselves with their temamates in front of them, and with the various defensive calls that are made which determine gap responsibilities. Putting all those things together takes time, but Wilson believes that the new backers, as well as veterans such as Scott Gyorko, will be up to the challenge.

"Guys like Grant Wiley had leadership, but the guys we have now will be all right," Wilson opined. ")Marc Magro is going to do good - he's a hard worker and plays hard. And Boo (Kevin McLee) and Gyorko are doing well too."

As the defense puts it all together, Wilson has yet another challenge that forces him to improve every day - his opponent across the line. Facing Wilson each day in practice is talented Jeremy Hines, who may well be battling for all-conference honors in the not-too-distant future. It's a coaching axiom that to get better, a player needs to be pushed and challenged, and although that push can come from other players at the same position, it can also come from having talented opponents in practice.

When they square off, Wilson and Hines routinely generate titanic collisions, as Hines strives to move Wilson out while Wilson battles to hold his ground. It's a fascinating subplot to the entire offense vs. defense battle, and one that bears watching.

For his part, Wilson acknowledges Hines' talent, but doesn't yield when talking about his opposite number, just as a good nose player should.

"He's a good player, the River Ridge native admitted. "We both came in at the same time, and he works out hard, just like I work out hard."

With the move of Ben Lynch to the tackle position for much of the spring, Wilson has the opportunity to earn a starting spot, or, at least, substantially increased playing time this fall. He doesn't look ahead, however, choosing to concentrate on the immediate future.

"I'm just going to come out and work hard every day and try to get better. I'm not going to look forward to next season. I just look forward to the next practice and take it one step at a time. That's how I play."

So far, that play has been good enough to keep him atop the heap (figuratively) and at the bottom of the pile (literally), in the battle at the nose.

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