A Thunder Who Plays Like Lightning

Thor Merrow knows he can't make many mistakes and expect to play nose tackle in West Virginia's odd stack defense.

Despite West Virginia's offseason alterations to its secondary setup, the nose remains arguably the most important position on the defense. The entire setup of the 3-3-5 is predicated on a nose guard who can keep the center from reaching the second level, freeing the middle linebacker, and others, to make plays. Preferably, the middle of the defensive line will demand double teams, eliminating the center and one guard from the offensive attack. It's not a glorious spot, but it's an unheralded one that can make or break the defense.

"Everybody has to be able to make their bones at nose guard," defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich said. "That's the toughest position to play. It's a different animal."

So is Merrow, whose Norse first name means thunder. The 6-1, 250-pounder is about three inches and 40 pounds away from WVU's traditional nose guard size. Ernest Hunter and Ben Lynch both played at 6-4 and 285-295 pounds and had the physique and basic technique that allowed others, like tackle Keilen Dykes, to make plays along the front. But despite Merrow's smallish stature, he plays with the same rugged determination that his father, Jeff, showcased as a Mountaineer from 1972-74. A captain in '74, Jeff Merrow was 6-4, though the same 240 pounds that his son weighs. He finished with 275 tackles, 22 for loss, with nine sacks. He also recovered three fumbles.

"Watching film of my dad, as I grew up I watched that style of play," Merrow said of his aggressive approach. "It just sort of came to me. If you are going to be out there, go 100 miles an hour. Give everything you got right then and there. I go out there and I will fight with anybody. I don't care how big you are, how tough. I am coming at you 100 miles an hour. When you are out there, you go full speed."

It's that, along with his solid technique, which has allowed Merrow to hold down the nose guard spot through much of fall camp. Merrow has large hands for his size, and he plays with great leverage and pad level, giving him an edge over Chris Neild, a tight end, halfback and linebacker at Stroudsburg (Pa.) High. Nield, at 6-3 and 305 pounds, has better size, but has been pushed back during drills by more experienced line players because he hasn't mastered the finer points of trench play.

"With my size I can't make as many mistakes," Merrow said. "I gotta be perfect on every snap. It's more challenging. I have to figure out what my opponent is doing, my guy. I watch (Dykes) all the time. He has great moves. The only thing I can't do, well, he's 300 pounds and benches 500. But I do have the same style of play. He is like a big brother. He's a great leader."

Merrow, to his credit, has followed Dykes' advice during drills. The Mountaineer senior will have to move inside if neither Merrow nor Neild can man the nose guard position – taking away a playmaker at tackle – so Dykes is rooting as hard for Merrow as anyone. (Dykes was listed as the starter at nose in the most recent depth chart released by WVU.) The Buford, Ga. native does possess great quickness off the snap and, having been at West Virginia since January of 2006, has been through two spring and two fall practice sessions. He made 109 tackles with nine sacks and 23 tackles for loss. He recovered four fumbles as his team went 58-2 during his career, winning three state championships.

"Hopefully everybody gets better, picks it up a notch," Merrow said. "You put that extra time in. We still got a couple weeks."

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