D-line Gets Passing Grade

West Virginia's defensive line harassed and handled the offense throughout practice on Wednesday. They key? More depth and batter talent at nearly every position.

It wasn't long ago that the Mountaineers were thin along the defensive front, so much so that even the annual Gold-Blue spring game format was changed to lessen the need for lineman. Now Bill Kirelawich enjoys the coaching delights of superior players in superior numbers.

That was showcased on Wednesday, as the line was able to trade blows with the offense and pressure the quarterbacks despite being doubled-teamed routinely as a result of the 3-3-5 odd stack alignment. The front freed up the linebackers and the spur and bandit safeties to make plays, and they did, bottling up Pat White and Steve Slaton while the secondary played well against the receivers. It limited the offense to just two scores inside the red zone, not bad for 10 minutes worth of plays from inside the five-yard line.

"They are playing ok right now," said head coach Rich Rodriguez, never one to overly praise a unit. "They get double-teamed sometimes in that scheme but we don't want that to be an excuse. They are starting to figure out what they are supposed to be doing."

That clicking is helped by veterans Keilen Dykes, Warren Young and Craig Wilson. The latter are seniors while the former is a junior, but has started for nearly three seasons. Dykes and Wilson each had 16 solo stops last season, with eight of Dykes' being for loss – five of those sacks. Wilson had four tackles for loss.

"We got good play out of everybody," Wilson said. "The seniors need to step up and take charge of this group. You look at Johnny Dingle, Pat Liebig, Warren Young, Dykes, me. We got some good guys. We go seven deep and are looking for more. Kevin Burke is coming up, and he will be a good player, and could be a really good player."

That depth will keep the entire front fresh, a key because West Virginia will need a solid pass rush perhaps this season more than any as it tries to rebuild its defensive backfield. The talent is there, but the players are youthful, so any extra time allowed opposing quarterbacks could be lethal.

"You can go out there and sell out," Dykes said. "You know you got somebody coming in for you. It helps out a bunch. This group is bigger, strong, faster. I say that every year, but it is the truth. Hopefully we get it going."

It had it going against the offense, being more physical and controlling play for the majority of snaps – something not easily done against players like Dan Mozes. Their play even got Rodriguez to discuss his displeasure with the offesne, especially along the lines.

"I am not overly pleased with anything on offense right now," Rodriguez said. "I am not worried about the O-line because there are a couple veterans up there. But we have got to get a tackle to step up. The offense just has to make fewer mental mistakes and be more physical. They need to understand what we are trying to get out of certain concepts in our plays."

Dykes noted that Liebig and Dingle could be impact players and surprise both fans and even teammates this year. Doug Slavonic and Andrae Wright – who Dykes notes is a big, big man – will also be factors and Thor Merrow could also see time, either along the line or at long snapper.

"You look at any great team and it always has great D-linemen," Wilson said. "Every team needs a good defensive front."

Said Rodriguez: "People talk about the expectations and all that and they just need to worry about tomorrow and not worry about what is ahead in a week, a month and a year from now."

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