How much remains to be seen, but overall, the defense looks to be deeper, and quicker, this fall.
Starting in the back, Antonio Lewis and Larry Williams have moved into the picture at cornerback, and with Anthony Mims and Adam Jones, WVU has four very quick corners. Throw in Davanzo Tate and Vaughn Rivers, who are also competing hard, and WVU has a great deal of depth here.
On the front line, the Mountaineers have as many as ten players who could see action and contribute. Depsite his exterior demeanor, Bill Kirelawich has to be happy with the amount of talent on hand.
As a side note, the numbers on the defensive line roster made Rodriguez' recent comment about Doug Slavonic all the more surprising. Rodriguez noted that the 240-pound defensive end might avoid a redshirt. With all the depth up front, it would seem that any freshman would have a tough time getting on the field this year, but Slavonic has been turning heads with his high-output motor and relentless work.
Adam Lehnortt's arthroscopic surgery (performed on Sat, Aug, 21) has everyone holding their breath. Lehnortt is expected back by next Monday, but that's two surgeries for him since the end of last year (he also had shoulder surgery after the bowl game). This is the one defensive position where the Mountaineers are thin. Expect Jay Henry to play as much as any starter as he backs up all three positions in this unit.
It's understandable that the coaches don't want to wear the talented Adam Jones out, but his ability to change the game with a kickoff or punt return is too great to ignore. True, Jones sometimes makes catching punts an adventure, but once he gets the ball in his hands, he causes major problems for the defense.
And, if wide receiver depth continues to be a problem, stick him over there for a couple of plays too.
It's not reminiscent of the storm troopers of 1996, but the defensive line is showing the aiblity to put some pressure on the QB. Jason Hardee is having an excellent camp, and Joe Sykes is beginning to show some of the ability off the corner that earned him a Division 1 scholarship.
The Mountaineers should also be able to unleash their four man rush in passing situations this year, in part due to the depth behind them in the secondary. In passing situations, WVU will substitute as many as three players to get good pass rushers and more defensive backs onto the field.
Every coach downplays his team's abilities and chances in the preseason, and Rich Rodriguez is no different. The fiery coach also uses any number of motivational ploys to get his team working hard.
Of course, that comparison might be a bit unfair. We're talking about two of the best backs in WVU history, and it's unreasonable to expect West Virginia to have runners like that every year.
That's also not to say that the current backs, or those that are injured, can't perform in the same way. WVU's backs have the size and strength to hit the hold hard and gain yardage. They simply haven't done so yet on a consistent basis.
Also, it's important to note that we're not talking about breaking off 30-yard runs here. We're talking about the backs getting behind their pads, pounding into small cracks in the line, and getting three or four yards. Or turning a one-yard loss into a two-yard gain by running hard through a tackle rather than trying to run around it. That's the type of thing that made Wilson and Cobourne great, and was also a big reason for WVU's recent success.
Repeat it. Rasheed is faster. It wouldn't seem possible, but WVU's senior QB is noticeably quicker than a year ago. Now, he's not going to break many tackles or juke many defenders, but if he gets a seam in the defense he's going to gain 15 yards. With Rasheed primed to run the ball more this year, can he make up some of those yards on the ground we're worried about? Our answer is yes, but expecting him to get 800-900 yards is a lot.
They might not leap onto the first team this year, but a number of players have been impressive during fall camp. In addition to the players listed previously, bandit/safety Ridwan Malick, spur Eric Wicks, and defensive linemen Keilen Dykes and Craig Wilson are all making pushes for playing time.
It seems that guys like Mike Lorello, Scott Gyorko, Jeff Berk and Lawrence Audena fly under the radar during overviews of the Mountaineer football team. Thier personalities probably have something to do with it, as none of that group is outspoken, flashy, or demonstrative on the field.
That doesn't mean they can't play, though. Every member of that group is an excellent performer that gets the most out of his ability by showing up every day, working hard, and maximizing his chances to improve. They are the kind of players that you can't have a winning team without.