West Virginia’s defense should be the strength of the team in 2010. The Mountaineers return 10 starters from the nation’s 36th-ranked total defense. The defensive line, however, should be one of the deepest the Mountaineers have had in years.
West Virginia returns all three starters on the defensive line, and a couple of red-shirt freshman are making an impact this spring.
Senior Scooter Berry has been a starter since his freshman year and was an all-Big East player his sophomore year. He only played in eight games his junior season and has not participated in spring practices due to shoulder surgery. When he is healthy, he is West Virginia’s unquestioned leader on defense.
Chris Neild may be the most important piece of West Virginia’s defense. The senior nose tackle may not put up huge numbers, but he plays a big pieced in the Mountaineers 3-3-5 defense. He occupies two defenders, which allows the linebackers and defensive backs room to make the plays.
Junior Julian Miller showed great improvement over the course of the season. He is the Mountaineers best pass rushing lineman, leading the team in sacks (9.0) and tackles for loss (14). He should have another big year and become an all-Big East performer.
Not only does West Virginia return all three starters, they also return all three back-ups, making it one of the deepest lines the Mountaineers have had in several years.
Senior Larry Ford will be in his third year after transferring from Coffeyville Community College. He has played sparingly but provides West Virginia with experience and depth. He is mainly used as a third down pass rusher and to spell Miller.
Behind Berry, sophomore Jorge Wright will likely be the first off the bench for West Virginia. He played sparingly as a freshman, wrapping up 10 tackles and one sack. With another year of experience and Berry’s injuries, he should play a bigger role this year, before taking over in 2011. At the very least he provides quality depth, and could be a productive starter should Berry miss significant action.
Josh Taylor, a junior, will be Neild’s primary back-up. He is a former walk-on who earned a scholarship before the beginning of last year. Taylor is a versatile lineman, filling in for Berry last year while he was injured. He will be able to back-up both Neild and Berry, and should provide depth to the Mountaineers line.
In fall camp, West Virginia will gain two more defensive linemen, in junior college All-Americans Bruce Irvin and Tevita Finau.
Irvin was one of the top junior college linemen last year, and should play primarily in pass-rushing situations. However, it is a big step-up in competition from junior college to Division I football, and it is hard to project how he will do.
Finau is expected to be a Mountaineer in the fall for the third straight year. The past two seasons he was expected to be in Morgantown for fall camp, but for various reasons he has not arrived. Should he show up to fall camp, he should provide West Virginia with a big pass rusher coming off the edge.
West Virginia’s depth and experience along the defensive line should help them improve an already good defense.