Linebackers enjoy new roles

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia's linebackers use words like "freedom" and "simpler" when talking about their roles in the new 3-4 defensive scheme being installed this preseason.

Considering at least eight or more players will be expected to rotate regularly into the four linebacker positions, that's a very welcome sign said the team's defensive coordinators.

"That's what we're trying to do. We're trying to cut loose and not bind their feet by tying up their mind," said Joe DeForest, one of two co-coordinators. "By cutting them loose, we're going to be a pressure defense, a zone defense, try to give our opponents confusion; that's the bottom line when you play defense. It's freedom, not freelancing."

The Mountaineers will use two inside linebackers -- a weakside and strongside.

One outside linebacker -- the Buck -- is a hybrid of linebacker and defensive end, the other -- the Star -- is more like a strong safety.

So far at camp, players have been moved around quite a bit.

Three starters who played linebacker last year have returned -- Doug Rigg, Jared Barber and Jewone Snow.

Terence Garvin -- a starter at strong safety last year -- is the No. 1 at Star, backed up by sophomores Shaq Petteway and Wes Tonkery.

Throw in senior Josh Francis, redshirt freshman Isaiah Bruce, and the competition heats up.

"We don't know the defense as a whole yet. We're still processing it all, but it's a lot simpler," said Barber, listed No. 1 at one of the inside spots. "Last year, you had to think a little bit more. This year, you see something you react. It's not too difficult. It frees us up a lot and lets us play football."

Doug Rigg, the projected starter at one of the inside linebacker spots, said he digs the new defense.

"You have to be much more patient," said Rigg. "Last year, you had to read everything when the ball was snapped, get in your gap, and, if not, it was a disaster.

"This year, you read off what people are doing in front of you, take your time, go through a progression, rather than last year where, as soon as the ball [was] snapped get somewhere."

Keith Patterson, the team's other co-defensive coordinator, explains the ease comes from each player knowing his responsibilities before the snap.

"We're trying to teach our kids to go through a pre-snap thought process. We don't want you thinking when the ball is snapped," said Patterson.

"In this defense, when you line up and you see the formation, you know what your run responsibilities are going to be and you know what your pass responsibility is going to be, so you try and get all that thinking out of the way before the ball is snapped. When the ball is snapped, react. It frees you up."

Keep in mind only about 30 percent of the defense had been installed as of early last week, according to DeForest.

Some opponent-specific things, he said, will be saved for particular weeks of the season, but, by the time camp breaks later this month, the basics and then some will be understood.

"We still have a ways to go," said DeForest. "There are some things you save for specific opponents. So maybe 25 percent you'll just use base on your specific opponent that week."

In all, coach Dana Holgorsen said, it is an intense battle trying to make up for the leadership of Najee Goode, a standout linebacker last season.

"Najee Goode was the guy who held that together and finding a guy that can replace him from a leadership standpoint, toughness standpoint and playmaking ability standpoint, we haven't found that yet," he said.

"We have three guys who have starting experience, and then we've moved Shaq Petteway and Isaiah Bruce in there. Those are two guys that are really athletic, but just don't have that much experience. We're rolling a lot of bodies in there and trying to find the appropriate two people, but we haven't found that out yet."


Jenn Menendez: Twitter: @jennmenendez.


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