Shouldering The Load

Reed Williams continues to push himself while not looking too far ahead.

The 6-2, 225-pound senior is attempting to come back from offseason shoulder surgery that threatens to sideline him for the 2008 season – one in which West Virginia is expected to field its deepest linebacking group in years. That's the positive and negative of Williams' situation. If the Moorefield native is able to return by September, WVU will have arguably its best defender back, and add to its already impressive middle of the 3-3-5 odd stack. If he takes a redshirt – Williams played as a true freshman and thus can sit out one season if needed – the Mountaineers should have enough talent to overcome even the loss of the Fiesta Bowl defensive MVP.

"I am trying to get back, because this is a year you don't want to miss," Williams said. "I am trying not to think about (redshirting). I am trying to push myself to get back. I have a lot of great things to look forward to with all the talent we have and the coaching staff we put together. I want to play, absolutely. But worse comes to worse, I'll take the redshirt and play next year."

Something Jeff Casteel would prefer to avoid. The defensive coordinator and linebackers coach can transfer his position and defensive calls through Williams, among the most experienced players on the roster. Where other players lineup is also predicated on Williams' return. If he can work back into game shape, he would slide back into his middle linebacker slot, bumping Pat Lazear back to the outside from the mike slot he manned in spring drills. That would pencil in the starting lineup as Williams, Lazear and Mortty Ivy with backups Ovid Goulbourne, Najee Goode and Anthony Leonard, among others. J.T. Thomas will also pressure the starting three for a position, though could have difficulty supplanting Ivy on the weakside because of the senior's strong showing.

The issue with that lineup is that its talent-heavy but inexperienced. Only Ivy and Lazear have decent game time logged. Williams has 37 games played, the most of any returning defender, and could loom large in key situations in terms of lining up others correctly – a huge asset considering the main glue guy from last season, free safety Ryan Mundy, is now playing in the NFL.

"The young guys lack experience, but they make up for it with talent," Williams said. "We have done some great things, and I'm excited to see what we can do. We have a lot of great guys who can go out and play, and it will be exciting to see what we can do, to watch us go out there and play."

Williams tallied a team-best 107 tackles last season, 5.5 for loss. He finished with a sack and one interception with three forced fumbles. The sack numbers would likely have been higher if Williams played on the outside, where there is more freedom and angles at which to blitz while not detracting from slowing the run.

And, with the new staff's insistence that there will be increased 4-3 looks, something that should allow the linebackers even more flow with the increased protection up front. That could allow Williams, and the other linebackers, to have a career year with the incoming depth and skill with Tevita Finau and Pat Leibig. Their development could reface nearly the entire front, a key considering the youth in the secondary.

"We really have some great defensive minds," Williams said. "Steve Dunlap was here as a defensive coordinator when we had that great defense in (1996). Dave Lockwood brings some animated intensity and knows what he is doing. (defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich) is an old standby, and I think Jeff Casteel is probably the best defensive coordinator in the nation. I consider him to be, and I look up to him as a man and a coach. We gain from those guys daily. If we listen and use it, we will develop ourselves. We have the ability and talent. We just have to develop through the fall."

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