Mountaineers seek depth, versatility at linebacker
MORGANTOWN - Keith Patterson and the rest of West Virginia's defensive coaches are experimenting a lot during the opening weeks of preseason camp.
They've done so much of it so far, in fact, that in retrospect the preseason depth chart now looks exactly what it was meant to be - a rough guide, nothing more and nothing less.
Players are constantly switched around, not only up and down on that depth chart but from position to position. It all comes with the territory when a new defensive scheme is being installed and the idea is to find the right pieces to the puzzle and put them where they fit best.
Nowhere has that movement been more active than in the linebacker corps. That preseason depth chart? Tear it up and start anew.
"There are some battles going on, that's for sure,'' said Patterson, who in addition to serving as the defensive co-coordinator coaches the inside linebackers. "It's kind of fun to watch.''
In essence, West Virginia's new 3-4 defensive alignment includes two inside linebackers, one on the weak side (Will) and the other on the strong side (Sam). There are also two outside linebackers, dubbed the Star and the Buck. The Buck is more of a traditional outside linebacker, while the Star is really a strong safety in disguise. That's where Terence Garvin will line up after spending his first three years at strong safety.
But through only a week of preseason camp, Garvin might be the only one among the linebackers whose position as a starter appears ironclad. Between the combination of all the players having to learn a new scheme and the position switches that have been made in the first week, the competition everywhere else seems wide open.
Keep in mind, of course, that as much as things have changed in a week, they could change just as much in the three weeks before the season begins.
But perhaps even more significant is this: All of those linebackers are likely to play and they probably won't be pigeonholed into just one position. All the early movement just gives them a chance to feel out new positions and for the coaches to search for the right combinations.
The reason for all the movement, said Patterson, is that the types of offenses West Virginia will face are tremendously varied, even in what is considered a wide-open Big 12.
"Look at Kansas State, which is as far from a spread offense as you can get. It's power-run football,'' Patterson said, also pointing out that teams like Texas and Oklahoma can run the ball, too, and that Iowa State makes its living there. "Therefore, you'd better be able to go big. You'd better be able to get 240-pound 'backers in there that can stop the run.''
On the other hand, there are also plenty of teams that will spread the field and throw the ball on nearly every down,
"That's where guys like Shaq and Isaiah Bruce come into the equation,'' Patterson said. "Those are guys who have to be able to make plays in space.''
Thus, you have safety types like Petteway and Bruce taking reps at Sam with a more traditional linebacker type like Rigg able to play there, too. But if, say, Petteway has to be on the field against a spread team, now Rigg is able to share time with Barber at Will instead of coming off the field and simply sitting down.
It's all about depth and versatility, both of which will be required in abundance.
"I feel good about the versatility that we have at linebacker,'' Patterson said. "And we have plenty of depth. I've got about five guys inside right now that I know are ready to play and about two more that I think are quality backups.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.