MORGANTOWN - Jeff Casteel readily admits to how important Bruce Irvin was to West Virginia's nearly impenetrable defense a year ago.
Of course, that the Mountaineers ranked second in the nation in sacks and Irvin himself was second individually - behind only Clemson's potential No. 1 draft pick Da'Quan Bowers - is the primary reason.
"He was everybody's hero. He was my hero, too,'' Casteel said. "He's the biggest reason probably why we were second in the country in third-down defense.''
Of course, there were some who looked at the play of Irvin and wondered why he wasn't being used more than on just third downs. Yes, he was occasionally a first- or second-down player, too, but only when opposing offenses were in obvious passing situations.
Still, Casteel and West Virginia's defensive coaches really didn't even attempt to turn Irvin into anything more than that he was - a 6-foot-3, 236-
pound pass rusher, a virtual one-trick pony.
And there was a reason.
"We're not as dumb as we look sometimes,'' Casteel said. "We know we've got a pretty good player there. We've just got to get him coached up.''
And now is the time to do it.
As West Virginia enters the second of its five weeks of spring practice, a prime objective is not simply to turn Irvin into a multi-down defensive end, but into a complete football player. That was the problem a year ago when he arrived from junior college.
He had no idea how to play the game.
Even when Irvin was in junior college, his coaches never had him long enough to teach him the game. In fact, he went to Mt. San Antonio Community College in California thinking he might be a safety. And out of the blue one day, he was asked to rush the passer.
No technique, just go.
Then when he arrived at West Virginia last August, it was the same deal. August camp is not the time to teach fundamentals from scratch. So the Mountaineers had Irvin do what he does best.
And now, finally, for the first time really in his college career, Irvin is in a position to learn the game. It was the plan all along with Casteel and defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich, to get what they could out of Irvin in 2010 and then start almost from scratch in his first-ever spring practice - the one just before his final season of college ball.
"If we would have had him in the spring last year,'' Casteel said, shaking his head and not needing to finish the obvious thought. "But he just shows up here and he hasn't played much football. He doesn't know the terminology, doesn't know what anything means and he's never played assignment football.