The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

August 8, 2011

Middle important to Mountaineers’ defense

Last year, with a wealth of returning players, West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel had little trouble turning the Mountaineers’ defense into one of the nation’s best.

This year, he must replace seven players from that stellar defensive unit.

So he knows what he needs to retool the defense.

“Everything,” Casteel said. “We’re replacing seven guys. We have Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller back.

“Bruce needs to get working on things he needs to do to become an every-down player. Nothing has changed with that.

“We had to replace two of the three safeties and two of the three linebackers and one of the corners. We have to try and find some guys inside where Chris (Neild) was. We have to find some people who can step in and make us successful over the course of 12 games. I’m sure we’re going to find them over the next nine practices.”

It’s a must, especially replacing Neild, now with the Minnesota Vikings. Neild was so tough up the middle he often commanded double-teams, freeing up teammates to make plays.

“We’re trying to plug guys in there,” Casteel said. “Our nose guard has to demand a double team.”

It’s a key position, which could be filled by veterans like Jorge Wright, who got into some off-the-field trouble and was suspended indefinitely but is trying to work his way back or Josh Taylor. Or a newcomer like Shaq Rowell, a transfer from Iowa Western Community College.

Either way, Casteel feels he has adequate replacement.

“They haven’t had as many reps and as much attention but it’s their turn to step up,” Casteel said. “Nobody heard of Chris Neild until he started playing. Coach Kirelawich is a guy who knows what he’s doing. He’s been doing it for 30 years. It just doesn’t happen overnight, unfortunately. I think we have some guys who can do the job.”

He said it is too early to evaluate a player like Rowell, a 6-foot-4, 308-pound beast.

“He is a great kid, a big kid and strong, and he is a good football player,” Casteel said. “He has got to learn to use his hands and all the things a new guy has to learn. It’s not fair to evaluate a guy, especially a nose guard in shorts. It’s going to be tough. We’re going to find out a little bit more about those guys as we move forward in practice and put pads on them. He runs well and he’s in shape. He has a great attitude. He has all the things you are looking for. We are just going to have to watch him play and teach him.”

The leaders, though, are guys who return, and they have talent.

Defensive end Irvin (one of the nation’s leaders in sacks with 14), cornerback Keith Tandy (57 tackles, six interceptions), linebacker Miller (54 tackles, nine sacks) and linebacker Nagee Goode (47 tackles) will be keys to the defense.

“Keith Tandy has really taken that role and he has earned it,” Casteel said. “He is a guy who has got better each year. He and Julian Miller, Bruce Irvin and Najee Goode would probably be the guys who have emerged as the leaders at the point where we are right now. I think it’s going to be important that the guys that are going to be sophomores and juniors step up in some of those roles as well. I don’t think leadership will be a problem.”

Nothing will change, Casteel said.

“We’re going to go as slow as possible so that guys know what’s going on,” the defensive leader said. “It’s the same (process) every year. We’re going to re-teach, even if we had seven coming back. They would probably retain more than some of the younger kids, but we going to install the same way and do the same things with the guys whether they are all back or if they are all brand new.”

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