Sands Storm

After an impressive end to last season, rising junior safety Robert Sands is looking to build off that momentum and provide more of everything to what he expects will be a strong WVU defense in 2010.

"You did something last year, you want to do it better this year," said Sands. "You don't want to stay the same. You always want to progress. That's what I'm going to try to do this year. Instead of getting five interceptions. I'm going to try to get six. Instead of eight pass break-ups, I'm going to try to get nine. If I get that, that's progress in itself right there."

And the key to making more of those plays, according to Sands, is knowing the ins-and-outs of the West Virginia defense as well as possible. For those who play in the defensive backfield, knowing assignments better allows for quicker reactions to the ball -- which leads to more pass break-ups and interceptions.

Thus, it's that portion of the game that Sands said he hopes to improve upon most this season.

"There was a lot of plays where I got those pass break-ups, where if I had just broke a little quicker or recognized a split-second faster, those eight pass break-ups could end up eight more interceptions," he said. "Little things like that."

Sands, who contributed two seasons ago as a true freshman, suddenly finds himself as one of the leaders on a defense that returns most of the pieces from last year's unit.

The Carol City, Fla., native said he expects that experience to mean that defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel can add further wrinkles to the team's 3-3-5 stack -- and makes it easier for the Mountaineers to work on better disguising their coverages before the snap, something head coach Bill Stewart expressed as a point of emphasis for the defense this year.

"We're a more experienced group, so we can do different looks like that and you won't get out of whack, versus having a young guy in there who doesn't know the ropes," said Sands.

"You kind of want (a young guy) to be stationary. You don't want him to do too much thinking. So you try to make it more easy for him on disguises. That gives some of our plays away, but at the same time, you've just got to roll with those punches."

So, Sands said, knowledge is the key to being able to disguise those coverages, to being able to react more quickly as a defender instead of having to think about assignments all the time.

But that goes beyond a player just knowing his own position on the field. Expanding that knowledge to the teammates lined up beside him in various spots can allow a player to be more aggressive in pursuing his own assignments -- while knowing what areas might be most susceptible as a result.

"It makes it a lot easier, so you can play off each other," said Sands. "When you know this person is supposed to be in the flats, you can kind of cheat a little bit. Stuff like that. It just helps to know what the person next to you is doing."

So it will be of the utmost importance that whoever ultimately ends up taking over the middle linebacker spot (formerly occupied by Reed Williams, whose eligibility ended in a loss to Florida State on New Year's Day) -- a pivotal spot in the 3-3-5 defense employed by WVU -- knows what is going on around him.

"There's definitely guys there that can take that role on," said Sands. "But it starts here. They've got a lot of big shoes to fill with Reed being gone. Reed was our leader out there in that middle linebacker. He held everything down in that middle. Now, you've got to fill those shoes with someone else. We aren't going to put that much pressure on them, but at the same time, we've got to get them ready."

"They've just got to put in some extra time in that film room on their own, watch extra film and stuff like that. That's what I've been doing. I've been watching a lot of extra film. I try to get my guys in there to watch extra film as well."

Indeed, building knowledge is as much or of an emphasis in spring practice as building the physical attributes needed to play major college football.

And so, even for relatively experienced players like Sands, the first days of installation can set the tone for the rest of the spring.

"We'll start putting more things in," he said. "Right now ... you stick to the basics like I said before -- working on fundamentals and taking everything slow so once you get to later on in spring and things start speeding up, there's no excuse no because you've walked through it for the past couple practices, so now you should be more familiar and be able to react and go full speed." "It starts out here with spring and carrying on to summer and the season. It's always about progress each and every day."

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