In 2016, the Mountaineers had a senior-laden defensive line that grew up in the Big 12 and knew what Tony Gibson wanted and expected. In 2017, the Mountaineers are expected to start two sophomores beside a rotating field of defensive tackles.
In 2015, the Mountaineers boasted three seniors along its linebacker corp. They were forced to replace all three in 2016 but knew they could rely on their three defensive linemen.
Defensive end Noble Nwachukwu was coming off a year where he was able to bring the quarterback down 8.5 times and record a tackle in the backfield 13 times. Those numbers forced teams to focus their blocking efforts on Noble and his numbers dipped. Despite the attention, Noble still recorded 4 sacks and 7.5 TFL.
Darrien Howard was the man in the middle who quietly did his job. He ate up blocks along the line and allowed the linebackers to flow to the ball by giving them wide lanes to choose from. Howard contributed 3 sacks and 6.5 TFL.
Christian Brown was Noble’s end mate on other side. Brown didn’t get as much love as Noble but still provided stout run defense while generating 2 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss.
2017 West Virginia Defensive Line
|Player||Year||2016 Stats||Height / Weight|
|Player||Year||2016 Stats||Height / Weight|
|D.J. Carozza||R-Sr||DNP||5-10 / 300|
|Jon Lewis||R-Sr||DNP||6-3 / 275|
|Xavier Pegues||R-Sr||DNP (Injury)||6-2 / 292|
|Jalen Harvey||R-Jr||27 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks at NWMCC||6-3 / 310|
|Brenon Thirft||R-Jr||DNP (Penn State)||6-3 / 292|
|Jaleel Fields||R-Jr||DNP (Injury)||6-1 / 298|
|Ezekiel Rose||Jr||35 tackles, 8 TFL, 6.5 sacks at EMCC||6-3 / 275|
|Stone Wolfley||R-So||No stats||6-4 / 267|
|Adam Shuler||R-So||33 tackles, 1 sacks, 1 FF||6-4 / 268|
|Reese Donahue||So||12 tackles||6-4 / 263|
|Jeffrey Pooler||R-Fr||DNP (Redshirt)||6-2 / 265|
|Connor Barwis||Fr||DNP (High School)||6-0 / 270|
|Darius Stills||Fr||DNP (High School)||6-4 / 278|
|Daniel Buchanan||Fr||DNP (High School)||6-5 / 285|
|Lamonte McDougle||Fr||DNP (High School)||5-10 / 295|
|Sam Cookman||Fr||DNP (High School)||6-2 / 225|
The lone senior on the team with game experience, Lewis is a quality backup who has appeared in 27 games. He won’t push for a starting role, but if he can provide the defensive line a break and there isn’t a dropoff in production, then he has proven his worth.
The expected starter at nose tackle, Pegues missed all of 2016 with an injury. Don’t be surprised if starter is used as loosely as it is with the running backs. Pegues may start but the physical toll of the nose tackle position will require more than one person to see time at the anchor of the defense.
The first challenger for playing time at nose tackle will be Jalen Harvey. Weighing over 300 pounds is going to give him a great place to start when he it comes to eating up double teams like candy. Harvey was a force for Northwest Mississippi Community College. NWMCC was shown on Last Chance U as an opponent.
A transfer from Penn State, Thrift will sit out the 2016 season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Fields came to West Virginia from the fertile grounds of Aliquippa, PA but hasn’t seen the field much. He redshirted his freshman year before seeing limited action as a redshirt frosh. Last year, Fields suffered a season ending knee injury early in camp.
Ezekiel played for Clint Trickett at East Mississippi Community College. While he wasn’t featured much on Last Chance U, he was productive. Rose generated 6.5 sacks, including sacking Dana Holgorsen’s nephew. The sack was shown on Season 2 of LCU.
Shuler saw playing time last year behind Noble Nwachukwu and will look to build upon his 2016 season. Shuler provides length at the defensive end position while helping to anchor the run defense.
Reese is a former Defensive Player of the Year for the state of West Virginia. As a true freshman in 2016, Donahue saw limited action but as he grew accustomed to Gibson’s defense, he began to push for playing time. Reese is expected to start opposite of Shuler.
Stills, the older brother of Dante Stills and son to former WVU legend Gary Stills, has had an impressive camp thus far and is pushing for playing time as a true freshman. Stills has shown the ability to split the center-guard double team and get into the backfield.
McDougle, who is the nephew of former Philadelphia Eagle Jerome McDougle, is also pushing for playing time as a freshman. McDougle, who was a top 30 player in the state of Florida, might be your favorite follow on twitter after his minor dustup with Pitt fans.