We continue our series of previews today by talking about what is usually the heart and soul of a defensive unit: the linebackers. With most of the (negative) attention on the pass defense last season, the interrogation spotlight was usually shining on the backfield and sometimes the defensive line. That said, the linebacking corps didn't garner much attention, negative or positive last year, save for the exploits of freshman Isaiah Bruce.
Veteran Terence Garvin has moved on, leaving behind a group with the potential to have a greater impact on the overall team performance on the defensive side of the ball. Add the fact that linebackers coach Keith Patterson is now the sole defensive coordinator. I may be old fashioned, but I've always felt like the best defensive coordinators were the ones who also took charge of the linebackers. Plus, Patterson has successful experience coordinating defenses that have to face a high tempo spread offense. I don't think I need to remind everyone of "the game of which we will not speak."
Yes, it's mostly the same scheme from last year, but with Patterson's personal touches, I feel a lot better about the unit as a whole. He has instituted some changes that allows the players to react and swarm more than waste precious seconds thinking.
JUCO transfer Brandon Golson has impressed enough to earn himself a spot at the Buck (outside) position. Golson will be key in producing an edge rush from the linebackers that has been missing since Bruce Irvin (I know he was a listed as a down lineman, but he was basically an OLB) left. Senior Dozie Ezemma is listed as Golson's backup on the initial depth chart.
Isaiah Bruce is back this season, but this time he's moved outside to the Spur (outside) position. Patterson wanted a way to get his best eleven defenders on the field at once and chalked the move up to a "gut feeling." Pushing Bruce for playing time will be freshman Marvin Gross, who, with his size, could eventually become a defensive end in a year or two.
Moving inside, we have two stalwarts of the linebacking corps in senior Doug Rigg and junior Jared Barber, who are listed as joint starters at the Sam position. The Sam position needs players who are versatile and Rigg and Barber both fit the bill, able to stop the run, rush and cover. Freshman Sean Walters is listed as their backup.
Rounding out the starters is Nick Kwiatkoski at Will (inside) who will be pushed by Tyler Anderson for playing time. Anderson is another linebacker getting acquainted with a new position, essentially exchanging positions with Isaiah Bruce.
Other players of note: Shaq Petteway has been lost for the season due to a knee injury and freshman d'Vante Henry was listed among the newcomers who will be taking a redshirt this season.
The linebackers, like most of the defense last year, was a unit that was painfully thin in depth in 2012. Player development and an impact JUCO transfer has seemingly remedied that for the time being. Add that to a year's worth of baptismal fire in the Big 12 and an experienced coordinator with a simpler scheme and the Mountaineer linebackers have a chance to help make everyone forget the defensive struggles of a year ago.
More from The Smoking Musket:
- 2013 West Virginia University Football Depth Chart
- West Virginia Football 2013 Season Preview: Quarterbacks
- West Virginia Football 2013 Season Preview: Defensive Line
- West Virginia Football 2013 Season Preview: Offensive Line
- West Virginia Football 2013 Season Preview: Running Backs
- West Virginia Football 2013 Season Preview: Defensive Backs
- West Virginia Football 2013 Season Preview: Special Teams