Answering the Questions

Before spring football practice began, we listed five questions that the 2002 edition of the Mountaineers needed to find answers for. Today, we look at the first of those five queries.

Question 1: How will the defense react to its third scheme in three years?

The answer on this will have to be graded incomplete at this point. That's not a copout, just our best assessment of where the defense stands at this time.

From a question of attitude, the outlook is very good. And from the standpoint of learning base assignments, the outlook is solid. The defense played with a good deal of enthusiasm, and for the most part seemed to get comfortable with the positions and assignments as spring progressed.

However, many rough edges still need to be smoothed out. For example, this defense depends on movement and deception to outwit the offensive line and confuse their blocking schemes. Defenders, especially the linebackers, spurs, and bandits, must be able to hide their schemes and alignments until the last possible second, then jump back into their assigned positions as the ball is snapped.

That can be much more difficult than it sounds, especially when three or four linebackers or safeties are all jumping around playing games. In the end, each player on the defense has to be comfortable not only with what he is doing, but also with what his teammates are doing. They have to trust that their teammates are going to get back to the right spot, and are in the correct position and executing their assignments.

Those types of adjustments take time and repetitions to achieve. And while the defense certainly isn't behind schedule, they still have a lot of improving to do before they are totally comfortable with the entire defensive package.

Missed practice time was a factor for several players on the defense, but the good news is that most of them will be ready to go in August. Adam Lehnortt should be ready to go after a nasty dislocated elbow, and Tim Love's knee sprain should likewise be fully healed.

The one area of concern is the secondary, where Brian King has missed out on a great deal of lifting and strength work due to his surgically repaired wrist. There's no doubting King's work ethic or willingness to do everything it takes for him to get back on the field, but everything needs to go right for him to have the time to resume lifting and get back into game shape by the fall.

If all those players come back strongly, WVU should have the elements in place to be a respectable defensive unit. Of course, that assumes no major injuries, and continued progression from all the defenders comparable to what was seen this spring.

And even given all those factors, the defense still probably won't be all systems go by August 31st. As we noted above, achieving a comfort level with any new system requires time and repetitions. Every snap, whether in practice or during a game, should help WVU move toward that level, but expecting it all to be in place by the start of the season is unrealistic.

The question now is, will the defense grow quickly enough to keep the Mountaineers in their games? That's one for the fall.

Up next: Question 2: Will enough players be found at wide receiver to form the eight deep that the coaching staff would like?

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