"[The depth at linebacker] is really good," said Leonard following the first set of fall practices. "From the camp perspective, the depth of the defense allows the coaches to put a lot more plays in at the beginning of camp than they have in the past because of the experience."
Fall camp is not only a time for new plays to be learned and depth charts to be set, but for an attitude to be developed. It can often set the tone for the season. If that's the case, Leonard is pleased with what he has seen from his team.
"You just try and go out there and have fun," said Leonard. "The heat is obviously going to get to you. The first three or four days of camp is pretty much like the honeymoon. Everybody is happy to be back. It's when your legs get tired and you keep the same intensity and find the way to push through camp, that's what will determine this team. The last thing you want to do is just survive it. You want to push through the wall."
Not only does the team seem to have that good attitude, but it appears to be in the best physical condition it has enjoyed since the off season began. Judging that from just a handful of practices can be difficult, but the Pennsylvania native senses improvement in his teammates.
"Everybody is moving around," said Leonard. "Everybody is in a lot better condition than they were in the spring. With the experience on defense, the coaches can put the plays in the playbook a lot faster. There have been a lot of positives in the first three days of camp."
After playing behind Reed Williams for the majority of his career, Leonard is preparing for his first year as a starter as an outside linebacker. He credits the extensive playing time that he got due to Williams' injuries in preparing him for his first and final year as a first-stringer.
"It's really no different," explained Leonard. "I have always prepared as a starter. At the same time, I have started too so there's really no difference. It's the same thing, it's just this year a lot of me playing on the field is going to be what's going on in between my ears. I need to be able to think like a coach on the field too. [My past experience] helps a lot because now not only am I a player out there but I think as a coach out there. I know the defense – front and back."
This season, Leonard is looking to be a leader to the underclassmen just as Williams was to him. Leonard has been pleased with the performance from players like freshmen Troy Gloster, Doug Rigg, Jewone Snow and Bruce Irvin as well as the rest of the newcomers on the defense. Of course, no matter how physically impressive those players are, they still have a great deal to learn and master before they have the chance to play.
"They still have a lot to learn," said Leonard. "They're physical and that's what Coach Casteel looks for when he's putting linebackers in for reps. [They need to work on] techniques. They need to catch on to the terminology. There's a lot more detail than there was in high school. Once they catch on to these things, they will be able to play fast but right now they're going to play like robots."
After having such a great leader and teacher in Williams to look up to during his time at WVU, it is certain that Leonard will be just as good at showing the ropes to the latest class to join the Mountaineers. He's stepping in not only as a starter, but also as the latest link in the chain of knowledge that helps freshmen become seasoned veterans.