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West Virginia Football Spring Game 2016: Defense Preview

This Saturday, the Mountaineers will conclude their spring practice with the annual Gold/Blue Game. The game will be held at the Greenbrier this year. Here are a few things to watch for in the scrimmage on Saturday.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Check out highlights from last week's 100-play scrimmage between the offense and defense. While you check out the highlights, make sure to read the What To Watch For: Offensive Preview and Five Spring Football Practice Questions

Can Dravon Askew-Henry replace Karl Joseph?

Dravon enters the 2016 as one of the most experienced players on defense and the most experienced defensive back. A two-year starter already, Dravon has shown flashes of the potential that led him to the Mountaineers. Now with Karl Joseph and KJ Dillon leaving for the NFL, Dravon is poised to take over the mantle as the next great safety for the Mountaineers. We saw some of the Joseph-like ability to drive on a receiver and dislodge his feet from the field in the Cactus Bowl. The Mountaineers will need Henry to lead the defense this year. Is he up to the challenge?

Can Noble Nwachukwu be a great pass rusher?

Noble came on strong last year to lead the team with 8.5 sacks. He was especially dominant in the month of November, notching 5.0 sacks in 4 games, including a 3 sack performance against the Texas Longhorns. The best way to disrupt a quarterback is put pressure in his face early. Given the pass-happy nature of the Big 12, it is imperative that West Virginia develop a consistent pass rush. Defensive Coordinator Tony Gibson is known for his blitz-happy defense but if Noble and the rest of the defensive line is able to create a pass rush without sending extra defenders, Tony will be just as happy. The loss of Larry Jefferson earlier this spring to a team rules violation puts even more pressure on Noble to become the pass-rush player the defense needs.

Which linebackers are ready to step up?

The defense has been led by upperclassmen the last two years, players who were forged as freshman in the Big 12. Those players allowed West Virginia to finally have depth at positions but it also means that now experience has given way to younger players. No longer is WVU led by senior linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who helped man nearly every linebacker position available. Three new starters will see action this fall. Who will step up? In the middle of March, Gibson named Xavier Preston, Sean Walters and Hodari Christians as the #1 starters. That didn't include incoming freshman Logan Thimons and four-star recruit Brendan Ferns, both of whom have been said to see playing time this coming fall.

Will the secondary be a liability?

Last Saturday during a scrimmage, the quarterbacks completed multiple deep passes including a 75-yard and 20-yard touchdown pass to Shelton Gibson, a 11-yard touchdown to Ka'Raun White and a 50-yard pass to Gary Jennings. Rasul Douglas did intercept Howard for a pick-six but otherwise the secondary yielded way too many big plays. In a league that thrives on big plays, this news has to have West Virginia fans scared. Last year with an experienced secondary, WVU was one of the top teams in interceptions with 23. The new crop of defensive backs including Douglas, Nana Kyeremeh, along with Jordan and Jacquez Adams will need to get up to speed quickly.