(Tall) Man In The Middle

When trying to think of someone to fill the position of nose tackle, one wouldn't normally look at a player standing six feet and seven inches. That is, unless you're West Virginia defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich.

Kirelawich, who is the typical picture of a defensive line coach in many regards, is a bit unconventional when it comes to slotting players into the three positions on WVU's defensive front. He's not afraid to use undersized players in spots that demand 300-pounders, or tall players where leverage and staying low are keys. Thus, it probably shouldn't have surprised anyone to see rangy Doug Slavonic take some snaps at the nose against Syracuse. Although someone of his size is abnormal at the position, Slavonic says that it hasn't caused much of a challenge for him, so long as he executes one fundamental technique.

"Whenever I get up pretty high, it can turn into [a problem]," Slavonic admitted. "I've been staying pretty low, so that it has worked out. Whenever I need to play, I can play. I use a lot of leverage. I'm giving up a good amount of pounds to be playing, though"

Although he has a big frame, Slavonic has always struggled to add more pounds, and usually has not hit the field at more than 260 or so. He has been able, as he notes, to make up for that with good technique, which has always been a staple of Kirelawich's teachings. Execution trumps just about any other physical shortcoming or perceived handicap, and so it is that Slavonic isn't the only out-of-the-norm guy at the nose. Slavonic is backing up 6'3" sophomore Chris Neild and 6'7" freshman Julian Miller at the position.

"I guess that's a new thing. Even Julian (Miller) in some third downs goes in at nose tackle. Bringing the tall nose guards in, I think it's a new thing," Slavonic noted.

Despite playing most of his time with the Mountaineers as a defensive tackle, Slavonic has not had a hard time adjusting to playing two positions or the increased time he has seen on the field this season.

"I‘ve played nose tackle before. I‘ve played nose tackle and end. I‘m used to it. The past couple of years I have been filling in at nose and at tackle. In practice, when we do individual work, I get a lot of reps at nose. I prefer playing (nose) tackle because my height is more of an advantage," Slavonic said.

One of those is the ability to disrupt passes, either by knocking them down or getting hands up in the passing lanes used by opposing quarterbacks. That's an underrated aspect of the game, but one that has certainly factored into WVU's excellent defensive play this year. The Mountaineer defensive line has been credited with six pass breakups to date, and undoubtedly has influenced at least twice that number. Those resulting incompletion are just as good as those caused by a defender's big hit or breakup.

During his junior season, Slavonic saw action in 12 games. He had nine tackles and one pass break up. He has already surpassed his last season record with 14 tackles in the first six games of his senior season, including 2 ½ sacks. Due to his versatility up front, he is seeing more time, and as a result is having the finest season of his career.

Despite recent criticism from some quarters, Slavonic is happy with the state of his team during the halfway point of the season.

"It feels good. The way we have been playing lately, it's a lot more rewarding. We're on a little win streak and hopefully we will continue it," Slavonic said. "It's nice whenever you have extra time to prepare for people. I'm pretty sure they have an off week too so they're going to have just as much time to prepare as us. It should be a good game."


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