Pursuit Speed

West Virginia's defense appeared to be quicker in getting to the ball this spring than last year, but it's not all due to weight room work and decreased 40-yard dash times.

While raw speed and quickness are certainly attributes that any defensive coach looks for in his players, it is by no means the only key in building a swarming defense that gets to the ball quickly. Defenders must know where they are going if they are hope to be effective. As one coach puts it, a fast player that doesn't know what he's doing just gets out of position more quickly than a slower one, which can actually make speed a detriment in some situations.

That has sometimes been the case for recent Mountaineer teams, but this spring the entire unit appeared to have taken a big step in cutting down mistakes and getting to the correct spot, according to linebacker Marc Magro.

"I feel like the defense has a good understanding of what the defensive coordinator and the whole defensive staff wants us to do," said the Morgantown native. "We've been in the system a while, and I think all the guys are meshing really good. With that mental state, I think that gives us an extra step on the ball."

Of course, Magro, who has acquired a deserved reputation as a workout warrior, won't be discounting the benefits of the weight room either. He has shaved tenths of seconds off his 40-yard dash time and improved his agility and strength mightily under the tutelage of the WVU strength and conditioning staff. Put together his growing knowledge and experience with physical improvement, and everything falls into place.

"I think it's a conglomeration of everything," Magro said when asked to identify what factors were most important in the improved pursuit the defense showed during the spring. "Mike Barwis and his staff have done a lot to help us, and like I said before, our understanding of what we are supposed to do. "It's a little bit of both – the physical and the mental."

Magro was quick to give credit to the offense for its spring performance, but noted that experience on his side of the ball was a big factor during April.

"I think both sides of the ball had a good spring, but we did pretty well," he admitted. "Our guys have been in the system longer. Last year's seniors weren't in the system as long as we have been, so we just have a great understanding of the scheme, and we're executing it. We're also able to do more things with our system now, too."

Back on the physical side of things, the emergence of a bigger, stronger defensive line has also helped potential tacklers like Magro get to the ball more quickly. Players up front such as Craig Wilson, Keilen Dykes, Ernest Hunter, Andrae Wright and Pat Liebig have all added size and strength over the winter, and the results have show not only in their individual play, but also in that of the defense as a whole.

One of the key objectives of the line, of course, is to occupy blockers and allow WVU's linebackers, spurs and bandits to flow to the ball, and that has been happening much more frequently this spring.

"It's going to help tremendously," said Magro of having a two-deep line of big and strong teammates lining up in front of him. "If you have big guys up front, it frees me up to run and make plays. The strength staff has done a great job of getting them bigger and stronger, and they are getting more intelligent with the system too."

In the end, obviously, the reasons for WVU's ball hawking and quicker pursuit aren't important. Whether it comes from quicker recognition, comfort within the system, or improved physical skills, "everything is coming together," according to Magro. And that could be an intimidating thought for Mountaineer opponents this fall.


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