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WVU Reshuffling Its Defensive Line This Spring

wvu reshuffling its defensive line

We continue our Spring position preview series by switching over from the offense to the defense. This Spring, we see WVU reshuffling its defensive line a bit to move into a new defensive front.

WVU Reshuffling Its Defensive Line

Over the last few years, Head Coach Neal Brown made several adjustments. Despite a surprise 9-4 season in 2023, Brown continues to adjust. Indeed, he tells the media regularly that the Mountaineers’ defense was simply not good enough in 2023. The unit collectively surrendered 26 points per game, good for 64th in the country. While that was certainly an improvement from 2022’s final numbers (116th in the country with nearly 33 points per game), Brown isn’t satisfied. This year, Brown is making another adjustment, this time one driven by the necessity of fitting his defense to fit the personnel.

For the last five seasons, the Mountaineers defense marched out a 4-2 stack defense. Last season, however, West Virginia shifted slowly into more of a 3-4 front. They continue to evolve into that base system. As a result, we see WVU reshuffling its defensive line to accommodate the three-man front. Mostly, what this means to the on-field product is this: the Mountaineer defensive line will rely on a single tackle and two edge rushers as down-linemen. They will still use the “bandit” position, but that position equates to more of a strong-side outside linebacker than an edge rusher off of the line.

In some ways, this move may be borne out of necessity. West Virginia has lost two starting defensive tackles in as many seasons to the transfer portal. As it stands now, the Mountaineers find themselves with four defensive tackles, only two of whom are upperclassmen.

Senior Leadership

Fortunately, the Mountaineers have plenty of senior leadership along the defensive line. Edward Vesterinen and Fatorma Mulbah lead the defensive tackles as seniors. On the edge, they also have similarly situated senior leadership in Sean Martin and Taurus Simmons. The coaching staff speaks particularly highly of Vesterin and Martin, both of whom will be leaned on to anchor the defensive line. Martin regressed slightly from 2022 to 2023, but the staff has praised Martin’s consistency in his approach and effort in practice to take his game to the next level in 2024. Vesterinen, on the other hand, took a big leap forward in playing time and production in 2023, and the staff will look to him to improve his numbers. Mulbah will be looked at to rotate with Vesterinen, and he could see a big jump in his usage in production as a result.

Building Consistent Depth

Behind their seniors, the Mountaineers field plenty of bodies. The question remains, however: who will take the leap forward? Edge rusher remains a position Brown highlights when asked whether he plans to add to the roster through the portal. To be sure, a team would never spurn another rusher, especially one with experience. The comment begs a couple of questions. Have any of the younger bodies stepped up and shown the capability to take on a bigger role? Does the staff expect one or more players to transfer out?

To be sure, the staff brought in three of their incoming freshman early to help stabilize and develop the room. Indeed, true freshmen Obinna Onwuka, Elijah Kindler, and Nate Gabriel count themselves among the six early enrollees from the Class of 2024. In the previous recruiting cycle, the Mountaineers added players like Asani Redwood, who saw some game action last season. Between the seniors and the freshmen, a gap remains. Zeiqui Lawton retired from football. Hammond Russell has shown flashes, but fellow junior Brayden Dudley has not earned much playing time to date.

Undoubtedly, several players need to jump forward in order for the Mountaineers to have success. Currently, numbers favor West Virginia with 14 players to play three positions. We know that the Mountaineers prefer to rotate their defensive linemen to ratchet up fresh pressure. Given the move to the 3-4, perhaps they bring more of that pressure from the linebacker position that we will cover in our next position preview. Regardless, we remain interested to see how the younger defensive linemen rotate and play in the Old Gold and Blue Game on April 27. Tune in at noon to watch the early product of WVU reshuffling its defensive line this Spring.

wvu reshuffling its defensive line
Photo courtesy: Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports


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