Our spring practice preview schedule:
- Thursday, March 31: Quarterbacks
- Friday, April 1: Wide Receivers
- Monday, April 4: Running Backs
- Tuesday, April 5: Offensive Line
- Wednesday, April 6: Defensive Line
- Thursday, April 7: Linebackers
- Friday, April 8: Defensive Backs
- Tuesday, April 12: Special Teams
- Wednesday, April 13: Coaching
As with most positions on defense, we lost a lot of talent to graduation. Familiar names like JT Thomas, Pat Lazear, and Anthony Leonard have been lost to the evil monster known as graduation. And unlike other positions on defense, we do not have much experience to fill the shoes of those that left. Sure, there is Najee Goode on the strong side, but wide receiver JD Woods had more solo tackles last season than a potential starter in the middle, Branko Busick.
This lack of experience makes the reps these players take in spring all the more important. From reports, the defense is just as excited and at times practices with more intensity than the offense. Naturally, the offense has more experience and talent, meaning the defense -- unlike in years past -- has been getting the best of it in practice. Still, the defense has been holding their own considering the circumstances.
This is normally the spot where I would make a joke and say "A sorority girl is to virginity as a WVU linebacker is to tackles", but I'm not going to do that. Nope, not this time. You won't hear me say anything about sororities and virginity and linebackers and tackles. I'm going to play this one straight and just give you the facts.
As previously stated, Najee Goode is WVU's most talented and experienced linebacker entering this spring. It's really not even close. He played in all thirteen of WVU's game in 2010, had 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble and was involved in 46 tackles. Outside of Goode, the rest of the returning linebackers only have 31 total tackles. That's why the "official" WVU depth chart has Goode listed as starting at two different LB spots, which might be tough come game time.
Despite the overall lack of experience, there is quite a bit of young talent that could emerge beside Goode in 2011 (and really, if WVU wants to be successful, it will have to emerge). Coaches have been bullish on both Branko Busick and Doug Rigg, and both sophomores could start come the Marshall game in September. Incoming junior college product Josh Francis (also offered by Oregon, Kansas State, and Rutgers) could leapfrog several players on the depth chart and assume a starting position. Casey Vance, who went far in making himself a household name with a fumble forced against Pitt, is also in the mix. Jewone Snow, a redshirt freshman, has the potential to see a lot of the field. Tyler Anderson will likely provide much needed depth.
Normally, this could spell disaster for the second level of any team's defense. Jeff Casteel, however, is in charge. And if the past few years have taught us anything, it's that Jeff Casteel can do more with less. That's not necessarily saying this linebacking crew meets the definition of "less," but it will have its shortcomings, especially early in the season when experience is still light.
Below, we have a potential depth chart. Of all the positions previewed on the site this spring, this depth chart is most likely to be thrown away come August in September. If Goode plays inside, it opens a starting spot for Josh Francis. If he plays outside, Busick will probably start the first game. It's all very fluid. At the very least, it should provide a lot of good competition and intrigue through the rest of spring and into fall camp.
Projected Fall LB Depth Chart:
SLB #1: Josh Francis
SLB #2: Tyler Anderson
MLB #1: Najee Goode
MLB #2: Branko Busic
MLB #2: Jewone Snow
MLB #3: Jared Barber (Incoming Freshman)
WLB #1a: Casey Vance