Style Infusion

It's impossible that West Virginia's interior anchors could be any different. But if they can combo their styles, the Mountaineers will have the base of an interchangeable front three that could be its best in a decade.

Pat Liebig and Keilen Dykes, on the surface, are the essence of Type A and B personalities. Where Dykes uses talent and a serious, educated approach, Liebig infuses toughness and a superior work ethic into the line. They are, quite literally, each their position, Dykes' tackle spot being a playmaking area – one which allows for end rushes and calls for confidence – and Liebig's nose tackle a dirty, dogged grind each snap.

The latter's quiet determination is evident via his playing time at end as a true freshman – when Liebig's drive and knowledge of the defense forced the coaching staff to insert him – and by his amicable but brief interview answers. He has worked back from a serious knee injury in his first career start versus Pitt to win the Iron Mountaineer Award as the top weight room performer twice, the latter time coming this spring, when he bested all linemen in 225-pound lifts (24 times), a 545-pound squat and 370-pound hang clean.

Dykes, a junior going into his third year as a starter, is an athletic, instinctive player whose abilities are exceeded perhaps only by his brash humor. ("Gotta keep that body for the ladies," he said of summer workouts.) He's a serious competitor with the demeanor of a Labrador retriever, jovial enough, but always wanting to bite off a bit more. He hasn't yet blossomed into the player line coach Bill Kirelawich believes he can be, but has always seemed on the cusp of great production.

The two settle a deep front that will offers promising-but-not-proven rush end Johnny Dingle, reserve Craig Wilson, who can man multiple positions, and end Warren Young. Doug Slavonic is slated to backup Dykes once he recovers from a foot sprain.

"We have depth," Liebig said. "We have six main guys. Now we're looking for seven and eight."

If they find them – and it seems as though at least Scooter Berry will also play – WVU is primed to match or exceed its 2005 production, when it helped hold foes to 2.9 yards per carry and tallied 29 sacks. It has limited opponents to no more than 3.6 ypc each year in its last three seasons, and four of the top five players are back, with the noticeable loss of nose tackle Ernest Hunter, a first-team all-Big East selection. How noticeable will depend upon Liebig, who will be the belly of the Mountaineers' beastly run defense.

"At the end of last season (Liebig) was playing as well or better than any defensive lineman we have had," head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "He is a strong guy, a tough guy and probably epitomizes what our program is about: A guy who hangs in there and battles and gets his shot and makes the most of it."

Liebig was born in Germany and lived there until he was 5. He wasn't exposed to an oblong football as a toddler, and didn't grow up playing the game as much as Dykes. After a solid career at Class 5A (big school) Naples High in Florida, where his parents, Thomas and Gabriele, eventually settled, the now 6-4, 270-pound Liebig greyshirted before coming to West Virginia.

He had other colleges higher on his list, but the Mountaineers offered the deferred enrollment, which is a staple of the collegiate transition in Germany. It fit with Liebig's desire to work for six months, which he did at his family's car dealership. Since his signing, he has battled back spasms and the knee injury, but appears ready to fill perhaps the most important role in the odd stack defense.

"He is very, very valuable to us, and in our defense, when we have an outstanding nose guard it makes the whole thing work," Rodriguez said. "We have been fortunate to have them, back to Ben Lynch and Ernest Hunter to Pat Liebig. If he can bring that to us this year, it is going to make the defense very good."

Add in Dykes and Dingle, who will flank Liebig, and WVU is set at the three spots with a combination of power and speed, both of which could morph the line from merely a stop-gap setup into one that can better pressure the quarterback. Dykes, at 6-4 and 290 pounds, especially fits both roles, having good reach and the speed and mobility to get around and through offensive tackles. The Youngstown, Ohio native had five sacks in 29 tackles last year, showcasing his big-play touch and, of yet, unrealized potential.

"Keilen is a good football player. We expect him to make more plays this year," Rodriguez said. "He has all the ability."

The two have combined for 94 career tackles, 17 for loss. Dingle, a 6-3, 255-pound junior, played behind Wilson last year and made 13 stops in 12 games, 3.5 for loss. Of those, three were sacks.

"We got some strong boys up there," all-Big East linebacker Boo McLee said. "Dykes, Liebig, Dingle. Everybody is big and fast and physical. Since we have that and our depth, this is probably the best defense we have had since I have been here. Hopefully they can make some more plays this year and free us up to do what we need to."

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