An Eager Eain

With the summer conditioning period all but over, the prospect of finally putting months' worth of weight room work to use on the football field is exciting to one Mountaineer defender.

At the start of summer, safety Eain Smith had a few simple but clear-cut goals in mind to accomplish before the start of fall practice.

"Just to get a lot of upper-body strength, mostly -- and faster," Smith said. "That's where I got better. Being in the defensive backfield, you've got to cover a lot of ground, so that's what I worked on."

While any quickness the defensive back has gained will be noticeable mostly on the field, an appreciable gain in strength can be seen simply by stepping on a set of scales.

After playing most of last season around 195 pounds, Smith said he was at 202 as of last week and still had his goal of playing at 205 pounds well within reach.

"I've been working pretty hard because I feel like I can contribute a lot more to the secondary and to the defense," said the redshirt sophomore.

"I think I got a lot stronger this summer. I worked on a lot of on-field things too, and I've learned the defense a lot better now. I should be a lot better this year."

That can only help position coach Steve Dunlap and defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel as they rotate through a number of safeties who have all, at one point or another, shown the ability to contribute at a high level.

"There's about five or six of us in the rotation, and we're all just competing and trying to get better by pushing each other," Smith said.

"We're all working really hard and I think it's been the best summer that I've been here for."

Smith and his fellow defensive backs know that a good summer only sets the stage for the real work to begin in fall camp and the start of the season.

However, having made progress in multiple areas during the "offseason" may help avoid the slow start that the West Virginia defense endured last season.

"We were trying some new things (early last season), some new coverages," the Miramar, Fla., native explained. "We got better at it as the season progressed, so we should start off better this season."

Indeed, most of the key elements to the success the Mountaineer defense found last season seem to be in place once more.

The biggest difference may be an increase in the number of blitz calls made by the aforementioned Casteel, a prospect which may have safeties like Smith focusing a bit less on their typical coverage assignments and more on finding ways to get to the opposing quarterback.

"They did switch my position on the SWAT team," Smith said, a wide smile crossing his face. "Hopefully I can get to blitz and get a couple of sacks this season."

How much blitzing Smith and the rest of the defense gets to do in games may be determined by the ability to handle that responsibility in fall camp.

Heading into his third go-around with the fall practice period, Smith knows what to expect in advance of Saturday's first whistle.

"It's going to be a lot of work," he said. "There's a lot of time in training camp, and you've got to be mentally prepared for it. There's a lot of mental and a lot of physical. You've got to be ready for it."

And from what Smith had to say, the WVU defense may be bringing plenty of the "physical" aspect of that to its opposition, both in fall camp and beyond.

"A lot of us can't wait until camp starts," he said with a broad smile crossing his face once more. "And a lot of the defensive players can't wait until the pads go on."

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