MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - For all the talk of West Virginia's defense this preseason, one thing has been largely overlooked. That's only natural, because in some ways the growth is almost imperceptible.
It's not figuratively that the Mountaineers are growing - although that is hoped for, as well, after last season's debacle - but literally.
When West Virginia's defense last took the field, in December of 2012 against Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl, the average height of the 11 starters was just a shade over 6-foot-1.
When the Mountaineers line up on defense the next time, a week from Saturday against William & Mary, the average of the 11 starters is more likely to stretch to about 6-foot-2.
It might not seem like much, but consider:
It's no coincidence, either. Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson is fairly enamored of height. He's like a basketball coach - which his father was - who talks about wanting great length.
"It's a great disrupting force,'' Patterson said. "If I'm a quarterback, the last thing I want to see are these long bodies.''
Much of Patterson's desire for length is because of what college defenses are forced to defend these days, especially in the Big 12. By their very nature, spread offenses spread the field so that the gaps between players are greater. Put people in the open field and see what happens.
Longer bodies, quite simply, tend to shrink those gaps, especially in the passing game.
For starters, there are longer, taller pass rushers disrupting a quarterback's vision.
"It's almost like hidden yardage in a game,'' Patterson said. "When you have a 6-foot-6 guy impose his presence, he may never touch the quarterback. But he puts his body in a very close proximity to the quarterback and he's still having an impact. Maybe it's his vision, maybe squeezing a throwing lane, but also just knowing, 'Man, that guy's getting close. I've got to get the ball out maybe quicker than what I want to get it out.' ''