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WVU’s Clarke may be key in new defensive alignment

WHEN SPRING DRILLS began, one of West Virginia's coaches was approached about the setup of the defensive front. I informed him I was stuck trying to figure it out.

"You're not the only one," he said.

The eligibility of starters Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin has expired. A new defensive alignment is in place.

I was told the Mountaineer coaches will continue to move around players up front through spring.

Perhaps, though, because the coaches have a Will, they have a way.

Jorge Wright, who has played in 34 games and started 13, will undoubtedly be the nose tackle in the 3-4 alignment that can transform into a 4-3.

The key, though, is Will Clarke, the 6-foot-6, 269-pound redshirt junior. Last season, he started 11 games and played defensive end. In the pre-spring depth chart, he was again listed at end.

But he's playing tackle. Which makes sense. A potential game plan is to have Wright at nose, Clarke at tackle, a healthy Jewone Snow at end and Josh Francis at Buck linebacker.

Clarke, who once committed to Pittsburgh before signing with WVU, said he has no position preference.

"Honestly, I like both [end and tackle],'' he said. "I like rushing off the edge, but I like playing inside because I like to believe I'm faster than a lot of the inside guys. I like having that advantage."

He doesn't even mind the spring shifting.

"It's actually teaching us every position," Clarke said. "Inside guys are learning to play outside. Outside guys are learning to play inside.

"We're going to a different conference and teams might be bigger, stronger, faster. This might help us out. Me being inside against a passing team or having Jorge playing the five technique [off the offensive tackle] against a team - or vice-versa - might help. It's good to teach us all the positions."

If you want to view it as the glass - or line - half full, well, Wright and Clarke are experienced.

"I think it helps because we learned from the guys that left," Clarke said. "We're just filling in the roles and teaching the younger guys so they can teach after we leave."

He admits the loss of Miller and Irvin subtracts from the pool of leadership.

"It's more of a collective [form of leadership] rather than one or two guys," Clarke said. "It's more of a rallying type of thing, as a unit. It's good to have that one vocal leader, but it's also good to have a bunch of guys. That means people aren't afraid to step up and speak."

"Jorge Wright, J.B. Lageman, even Shaq Rowell [are vocal]. Guys like Isaiah Bruce still get advice from Tyler Anderson, Taige Redman and Darwin Cook. And even though Terence Garvin is out, when guys come to the sideline he gets them right.

"On offense, it seems like the whole offense is talking, from the line to the running back to Geno [Smith]. It's more of a collective thing."

Clarke said he hopes the collective talent of the defense makes the Mountaineers effective up front. He especially likes speed in the form of two outside linebackers.

"It helps out a lot," he said. "Those guys are outside linebackers and they're so much faster. The [opposing offensive] tackles have to get used to them and us as well. They'll be expecting speed on one play and on the next we might switch it up and come with some power."

His hope is, in the end, the opposition is the one stuck trying to figure out this line.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.


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