“Now is there anyone out there who wants to go fast”
“I wanna go fast”
Those four words could be the motto of the 2022 West Virginia Mountaineers. Nearly everyone, from head coach Neal Brown, to new offensive coordinator Graham Harrel, to seasoned defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley, to players like James Gmiter and Lance Dixon have all mentioned speed in some way during their soundbites this spring. And it would make sense because the 2021 Mountaineers lacked an overall team speed.
Josh Chandler-Semedo was a good downhill linebacker who could clog up run lanes and give running backs fits if he hit the right hole, but very rarely did he go sideline to sideline making plays and chasing down running backs. As Lance Dixon told it, Dixon has dropped almost 10 pounds this spring to allow himself to chase down ball carriers. It’s not just Dixon though who brings speed to the defense.
“We’ve got a lot of new guys coming in. A lot of long, a lot of fast, athletic. It’s going to be a fun season.” - Lance Dixon, West Virginia Linebacker
Dixon is right about the newcomers, since the Mountaineers lost a significant amount of defensive snaps in their back seven, but their replacements look to be more athletic and faster.
Take Chandler-Semedo’s replacement, Lee Kpogba. Kpogba has been singled out multiple times as being fast and being able to run sideline to sideline and chase down ballcarriers. “Lee Kpogba at Mike Linebacker [middle linebacker], I think he has a bright future. He runs. We needed speed at that spot and he did some nice things here on day one”, said West Virginia head coach Neal Brown as he addressed the media following the start of spring practice.
Newcomer Christion Stokes has been mentioned time and time again during his recruitment of speed. Fast runner. He was a swiss army knife in high school, being used both as a running back and a cornerback. So is transfer Marcis Floyd, from Murray State, who has been mentioned as one of the faster players on the defense.
As a defensive coordinator, that fits Jordan Lesley just fine, who seems excited to have more athletes and more speed on his side of the ball. Getting longer on defense seemed to be a desire for Lesley, but so did speed and Lesley wasn’t just worried about 40-time speed.
“How often to do you run 40 yards, you know? But closing speed, how fast can you close?” The ability to close fast and make fast-twitch plays helps defenses recover fumbles, intercept passes and make up for mistakes. No play is perfect and no play happens in a vacuum, but the ability to get to a spot quickly can be the difference between a catch, a pass defended and an interception. West Virginia ranked near the bottom in passes defended last year, finishing the season at 116th [out of 130 teams] with 37 defended passes. They finished at 80th in interceptions.
On the offensive side of the ball, explosive plays are the rage. Graham Harrel talked about making explosive plays and offensive lineman James Gmiter talked about the speed at the running back position, where he sees several players who have the ability to hit a homerun.
I think once he [Lyn-J Dixon] comes along and really grasps the offense, we have two or three guys back there who can make home run plays.
Those homerun plays have been missing from an offense that is predicated on taking advantage of the defense and exploiting mismatches. The longest play from scrimmage last year was the Leddie Brown 80-yard scamper against Virginia Tech. The Mountaineers finished 90th in the country in explosive running plays (plays that gained at least ten yards). They only had 6 plays that went for 30 yards or more.
The coaching staff and players seem to have made a conscious effort to say “I wanna go fast” in 2022.