Under coordinator Jeff Casteel, the Mountaineers had been solely a three-man front with an additional blitzer on nearly every play. Now, with new assistant Steve Dunlap – a former WVU defensive coordinator known to run a four-man front emphasizing an aggressive, attacking linebacker – West Virginia is looking to utilize portions of both styles.
That's aided by the switch from a lone free safety look to a two-deep installed last season. It significantly boosted the team's rush and defensive backfield options and shrank the passing windows allotted quarterbacks last season. It also kept signal callers from simply checking the location of the free safety, then throwing to a wider side of the field, or challenging corners deep because of the lack of help over the top of the defense. Those boosts, combined with a return to more of a four-man look, will provide greater flexibility while still allowing the confusion, free movement to the ball and swarming nature that typifies the 3-3-5.
Thus far, the staff has just begun to install the sets and match the according terminology. West Virginia has switched base terms, something it does once every three seasons. And with the loss of the entire defensive backfield – three safeties, including Ryan Mundy, a glue guy that held the new style afloat, and both cornerbacks – there will be a feeling-out period for both what the players are physically able to do and what they can mentally grasp.
"From a defensive standpoint this will be an exciting spring for us," Casteel said. "This is the first time we have had any turnover on our staff in five to six years, and we are in the process of meshing ideas right now. We still want to stay with what we have done here at West Virginia then take some of their ideas and mesh them with ours. We are excited about that.
"But we have lost a ton of kids defensively, and that's going to be a big challenge for us this spring. We lost our entire back end, with two great safeties in Ryan Mundy and Eric Wicks. We have a lot of kids we think can play there, we just have to find the right spot for those kids. That is what coach (David) Lockwood and Dunlap are going to try to do. It's also one that is really good with the situation we are in in terms of having the new coaches in here. Because the kids that we are going to line up with in the spring, frankly, we have not seen. They were young kids with the scout team. We have to find some that can step up."
Changing out the terms and structure of the defense in one spring is both positive and negative. The plus is that, after the early issues, the defense will be fully installed with the new terms, meaning the two issues will not need to be revisited as they would if done in separate years. The bad news is that, in a spring with so many questions, it adds another enigma, both for players and staff.
"The kids, it's a good situation for them because they are coming in with an unbiased opinion as far as guys coaching them," Casteel said. "I think we will have enough kids there, we just have to get them in the right spots. I think Dave [Lockwood] will find through spring that they all have things that make them good football players, we just have to find the spots. We are excited about some of the young kids we have there. To be honest, we are not sure who is going to be in that two-deep. But we are excited. They are a great bunch of kids and they have had a great winter. They worked hard through the transition and they are excited."
Note: Jeff Mullen, on West Virginia's offensive ideals – "It's not West Virginia offense, it's West Virginia football. We will do what it takes to win. If it's 3-0, if it's 58-55, we will call plays that give us a chance to win in regards to how our defense is playing that day. We will call games from a team perspective. I am a guy that believes in balance."