In addition to simply learning the new sets and adjustments this spring there was the matter of terminology. What might have been called "rabbit" a year ago could be termed "rodeo" this year. And while that sounds simple enough, multiplying it by a few dozen different schemes makes it something that wasn't going to be perfected overnight.
As in any language change, the temptation is to translate the new to the old, and then execute the call. Hear "rodeo", think "rabbit" and then play. The problem is that the delay in doing the translation could prove fatal if the ball is snapped while the translation is still underway. And what if the offense adjusts its formation or goes in motion, resulting in another defensive adjustment? There's just not enough time to play through the process.
The solution is to forget all the old calls and simply learn the new ones. Unfortunately, the brain isn't like storage on a computer, which can simply be wiped clean and formatted. Niggling bits of that old information are going to stay around and gum up the process on occasion.
For Pugh and his veteran teammates, that was probably one of the bigger challenge of the spring.
"We made a few adjustments in the scheme – a few little things that will help us play a little better, especially against the passing game. I think we will be all right with those," he observed. "But [the coaches] changed all the signals and the calls. That was the tougher thing to get down. But we made the switch over pretty good, and I think the secondary got it put together pretty well."
Pugh, who anticipates teaming with Quinton Andrews and Boogie Allen as the three starting safeties, knows that hesitation is death for a defense. A unit that is already in react mode can't afford any further time penalties in deciding what to do, so it has to be able to hear calls, make changes and execute them without thinking about them. He believes the playing experience that the trio possesses will help in making that execution second nature.
"We go pretty comfortable back there. Quinton is a returning starter (albeit moving down from his old position at free safety) and Boogie Allen and I have a lot of experience from the past year. We have to work together and make sure we know what each of us are doing."
That process might continue to be a little easier in one respect, as the distinction between spur and bandit continues to blur. Both spots are called upon to pass cover, run defend and blitz, but one of the tweaks also brings the free safety into that mix.
"All three safeties can do the same thing," Pugh confirmed. "One play we might be blitzing, the next play we might be back deep. We have to be versatile, and know each other's jobs. It's pretty much the same assignments that all of has have to be familiar with and be able to run, and I think it's going to be better for the defense too."
Throw in the fact that West Virginia's cornerbacks won't flip flop according to the side and short side of the field this year, and there are certainly a number of items to get comfortable with. Developing the teamwork to mesh all of those items, especially as they relate to the other defensive units, was one of Pugh's points of emphasis in the spring – and will continue to be so this fall.
"We have to keep developing that chemistry," he said, invoking the magic quality that is sometimes so elusive, even on the most talented of teams. "I want to keep doing that – develop it with the linebackers and the secondary so that we are all working together.
"I think that's part of being a leader," Pugh continued. "Being a senior, I have to show the young guys these things, and help them learn it."