High Expectations

They don't talk about it much, but WVU nose guard Chris Neild conceded that the players on the Mountaineer defense feel the same way many fans and pundits have throughout the offseason: that this year, points could be at a premium for West Virginia's opponents.

"We know what we have, with all the returning starters we have back and the whole defensive line returning," said the senior. "We know what we're capable of, and I think other people do as well. We have to just develop that even more and more.

"We don't really talk about it that much, but we know what we have as far as a defense as a whole."

What the players at the top of the depth chart for coordinator Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 odd stack alignment have heading into fall training camp is experience. And in a system that relies on communication as much as Casteel's does, players and coaches alike are hoping that will translate to one of the better WVU defenses in recent memory.

"We definitely have high expectations," Neild said frankly. "That will tell the tale, when we have that first practice out there and we all get in the huddle. It will definitely tell us how comfortable we are with each other.

"We all feel comfortable with each other, and I think once we all get on the field, it's going to be impressive."

It takes a solid offseason to set the proper tone heading into fall camp, and Neild is like the rest of his West Virginia teammates in that he felt a difference in this summer's strength and conditioning work compared to past seasons.

It's a difference the defensive lineman said he expects to translate to the playing field this fall.

"The intensity has definitely picked up over the past couple months. This has definitely been one of the toughest summers since I've been here," Neild said, comparing the difficulty of the workouts to the feeling he had when trying to adapt to the college level in the summer before his true freshman season.

"[Mountaineer strength and conditioning coach] Mike [Joseph] has us doing a lot of different things, and it's definitely been a big change, as far as how we work out."

While players at the skill positions hone their craft in competitive 7-on-7 scrimmages throughout the summer, those along the defensive line have to labor through the kinds of drills they will face when position coach Bill Kirelawich gets to work with them again starting Saturday.

It's a less-glamorous way of working on the finer points of playing a position that, appropriately enough, lacks glamor. But Neild and fellow senior Scooter Berry have led the defensive line through the necessary work on the field this summer to prepare the players for the season.

"We come in here on Tuesdays and Thursdays after everybody is done with speed and agility work, and we do some skill development stuff," Neild said.

"[The skills that are central to the drills] are things that we're going to need to develop as the season goes on."

When he hasn't been busy toiling away in the Milan Puskar Center weight room or leading the defensive line in on-field work, Neild has also been watching film of himself and focusing on the fundamentals of his own play, hoping to, in his words, "fine tune" his tactics from the nose guard spot heading into his final season at WVU.

Putting all those things together, Neild expressed his belief that the past few months have been a successful. And that made him even more excited to see what his senior year holds for a defense that has plenty of promise.

"We're definitely on the right track," he said.

"We've been working out really hard this summer, and once training camp comes along, I think all the things that we've been doing this summer will come together. And I think it will help us be successful."

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