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Turnovers goal of WVU defense

MORGANTOWN - Conventional wisdom says that football is a game of offense. That's the side of the ball that controls things from start to finish - the one that decides what plays are run and scores the points that determine the outcome - and the primary job of the defense is to disrupt the offense as much as possible.

Joe DeForest has a slightly different take on things, as defensive coordinators tend to. In his mind, the ball that the offense is playing with isn't even theirs.

"Basically, the offense just borrowed the ball from us,'' West Virginia's first-year defensive coordinator said. "We're trying to get it back from them. It's our turn.''

Thus, as the Mountaineers head into the meat of preseason camp - today's fifth practice will be the first in which full contact is allowed - DeForest has more on his mind than the already daunting tasks of installing a new defensive scheme and finding the players to run it.

He wants turnovers, too. Lots of them. It began in the spring, when the defensive coaches charted turnovers forced in practice each day. By the end of 15 practices in April, they were right on track.

It's not changing in the fall, either.

"It's always been three a day,'' DeForest said. "We don't really judge it when we don't have pads on, but we still demand it. Now we have pads on and we're going to get three a day for every day of camp. That's our goal.''

As far as DeForest is concerned, it's all in the attitude. There is often a fine line to be walked between trying to force turnovers at the expense of executing the fundamentals of defense, namely wrapping up and getting the ball carrier to the ground. If a safety is so concerned about making a bone-jarring - and ball-loosening - hit, it can sometimes result in a missed tackle and a big play the wrong way.

That's why he and West Virginia's other new defensive coaches are keen on emphasizing both aspects.

"There's obviously a technique. The first guy in makes the tackle and the second guy in strips the ball,'' DeForest said. "And if you're coming from behind, you're going to punch it out or strip it out when he's not prepared.

"But when you're running from the side of the guy and he has the ball on that hand, you put your helmet on his elbow and try to break his elbow. I mean, that's what we're teaching. We're teaching to be violent on the football.''

DeForest has had some success with that philosophy. He wasn't the coordinator at Oklahoma State during his 11 years there, but he was involved with a defense that last year led the nation in turnovers forced. And in the Big 12, where offenses tend to do some fairly serious marching up and down the field no matter how good the defense is, turnovers can spell the difference in a game.

So far, he said he's liked what he's seen,

"I can't speak for what they did in the past, but I know when we get one now, the entire defense erupts,'' DeForest said. "It's important to them and they understand that if we give our offense three more possessions a game that we'll be a lot better football team.''

Of late, West Virginia has been rather hot and cold where turnovers are concerned. Twice in recent seasons the Mountaineers went long stretches at the beginning of the season forcing none, then got more as the season progressed.

WVU has not been great in the area of turnover margin, though, since finishing ninth in the country in 2007 and 16th in 2008. The last three seasons the Mountaineers have ranked 70th, 80th and 49th.

"Like I said, I we can get our offense three more possessions a game, I'll take those chances,'' DeForest said. "It also creates field position and it creates momentum. If you [force] three turnovers a game, you'll win every game. I truly believe that.''

Briefly

  • Monday's practice was the second in shoulder pads and helmets, but with only light contact. Today begins full padded workouts and full-scale contact.
  • Coach Dana Holgorsen said Monday night that there is still no change in the status of freshman running back Roshard Burney, who was included among the 105 players invited to camp (the NCAA limit), but hasn't reported because of academic issues.
  • Nor is there word yet on the academic status of a handful of veterans who are still taking summer school courses and could be in danger of becoming academic casualties.

    Holgorsen said he should know about the summer school issues by the end of this week.

    "It's their own fault because they could have finished this up early in the summer and they didn't,'' Holgorsen said. "I'm not going to tell you who they are, but it's affecting their reps, I'll tell you that.''

  • Star receiver Stedman Bailey remains on the No. 1 kickoff team, as he was all last season. The only other offensive player working with any of the kickoff coverage units is fullback Donovan Miles, who is in his infancy at that position and earned his spot on the kickoff team last year while playing linebacker.
  • And quarterback Geno Smith ran up and caught one of freshman Josh Lambert's kickoffs in a non-contact drill, then punted the ball back up the field. Suffice it to say neither the kickoff returners nor the punters have anything to worry as far as Smith taking their jobs.
  • Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

     


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