There is good cause for optimism with a defense that returns an impressive group of linebackers and defensive backs, but most commentators have been glossing over the defensive line while hyping up the potential of the WVU defense. So what is the deal with this year's defensive line?
For starters there is a new coach. Out is Tom Bradley who accepted an offer to coach at UCLA, and in is Bruce Tall who is back for his second go around with WVU. The players seem to have responded to Tall's coaching a fact that has been noted by WVU players who do not play defensive line.
There is also a new pass rush specialist. Gone is Shaquille Riddick, WVU's leader in sacks, who was drafted in the fifth round of the NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. In is Larry Jefferson a JUCO transfer who is expected to fit the mold of Riddick, and before him Bruce Irvin, as a pass rush specialist. When WVU released its depth chart for week one Jefferson was conspicuously absent, but as mentioned above this may be just a function of his role as a pass rush specialist.
Leaving aside attrition, WVU returns several veteran players including Kyle Rose at starting Nose Tackle, Noble Nwachukwu and Christian Brown at Defensive Ends, and Erick Kinsey, Darrien Howard and Jon Lewis as their respective backups. The 3-3-5 stack has succeeded best at WVU when the defensive line includes a successful nose tackle who can take on two offensive lineman a la Chris Nield, and a disruptive speedy defensive end who can get to the quarterback on passing downs a la Bruce Irvin. While there is no Bruce Irvin on this line Kyle Rose has been good, and there is no reason to believe he can't be on the level of Chris Nield this year based on potential (for a good write up on how the nose tackle in WVU's defense functions with the rest of the defense I strongly recommend reading Mike Casazza's article in the Charleston Gazette-Mail on "gap integrity") Nwachukwu has also shown flashes, and solid performances from him and Brown coupled with consistent play from Rose should be enough to allow the defense as a whole to live up to the hype.
WVU struggled mightily against power running attacks they saw last year from Alabama, Oklahoma, and Texas. In order to improve on last year's win total WVU will have to do better this year against the run. It appears the players are there on the defensive line to improve from last year, and after week one's tricky matchup against Georgia Southern's option attack we will get a good idea of what to expect the rest of the year.