The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

April 7, 2011

Casteel: Spring is important to defense

MORGANTOWN — Last year, West Virginia had one of the top defenses in the nation, led by the play of a group of seniors who took pride in their craft.

From a stout defensive line, a play-making group of linebackers and a ball-hawking group of defensive backs, West Virginia had it all.

Now, defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel is charged with finding replacements for six seniors and Robert Sands, who left early to pursue an NFL career.

That makes this spring ultra-important for Casteel and his defensive staff.

“We’re teaching concepts and putting in the defense in steps with kids, so that’s all we’re concerned with,” Casteel said. “We want to make sure they are getting aligned properly and want to make sure they are communicating properly. Those are the things we’re looking at and seeing how they’re playing downhill to people and covering the right route. We want to make sure we can execute the defense we have going.

“This is going to be a big spring for us defensively. Losing the caliber kids that we lost this year is big.

“When you look at who you lost and where at, it is spread throughout the defense.”

Casteel doesn’t need a program to know what he lost or just how important those seniors were to the success of the Mountaineers, who finished the season 9-4.

“One of the reasons for our success last year was that we had seniors who played their best football,” Casteel said. “Chris Neild had been a solid guy throughout his career but played his best last year. Scooter Berry had a great career here but played his best football as a senior.

“ When you get back into the linebackers, you lost J.T. Thomas, Anthony Leonard and Pat Lazear, who was hurt the majority of the year, but if you would have seen how he was injured, you would not know how he was still playing. J.T. played his best, and Anthony really stepped up and played well for us.

“You look in the back, and we lose Robert Sands, who again was a big-play kid for us. We also lose Brandon Hogan, who was arguably our best player on defense last year. And we lost Sidney Glover who made a lot of plays for us.”

But he may well need a roster to call names out in practice.

Now, the key is finding replacements for the seven, hopefully by the time the spring game ends spring drills April 29.

The cupboard isn’t totally bare. Julian Miller returns to the fold, being moved inside to tackle from end, and he had 54 tackles and 14 tackles for a loss. Also back is Bruce Irvin, who will transition from a third-down specialist — when he had 14 sacks, second in the nation — to an every-down player.

Najee Goode returns at linebacker, and the secondary has All-American Keith Tandy (six interceptions, top in the Big East and 10th nationally) and Terrence Garvin.

But the key will be the replacements.

“We still have to find some ways to see what our kids do best and put them in a position where we can play to their strengths,” Casteel said. “We had great leadership last year. They were very competitive, and as the year went on, they got more and more confidence. That is what we need to stress this spring. The standard has been set, and it is very reminiscent to after the Fiesta Bowl when we lost so many players.”

Casteel said he’s liked what he has seen from Josh Francis, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound Lackawanna (NY) Community College transfer.

“He’s quick, and he’s an aggressive kid,” Casteel said. “He’s a thumper with great expressiveness. At times, we may have to slow him down a bit, but he’s done some things in these first few days that we thought he was capable of.”

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