Patience required as WVU defense shifts alignment
MORGANTOWN - As soon as Doug Rigg and the rest of West Virginia's linebackers had begun spring practice this week, they heard the new mantra.
OK, so that figures, right? The Mountaineers are installing an entirely new defensive scheme with four new defensive coaches who a year ago were at four different schools. Sure, it's going to take a while.
But Rigg and the linebackers weren't being asked to patiently learn the new defense. No, that's expected to be done as quickly as possible.
When the coaches told Rigg to be patient, they meant to be less aggressive. At least at the snap of the ball.
"The first thing they told us when they brought us in was to be patient,'' Rigg said. "Last year's defense was all about when the ball was snapped you had to get down and get into the seams.''
Welcome to the world of the 3-4 alignment after a decade of the hybrid 3-3-5 that has been WVU's trademark.
"The way our defensive line is positioned, it takes a lot of stress off of us,'' Rigg said of himself and the other linebackers, who will number four on the field next season. "It lets us play more freely and read where the back is going instead of just running into a gap, getting off a block and trying to make a play. That resulted in some big gains.''
Well, it didn't always result in big gains. West Virginia used the 3-3-5 for 11 years, and some of those defenses were among the best in the country. That only happened, though, when the Mountaineers had exactly the right combination of talent and experience. When forced to play without an abundance of both, the defense often struggled.
The 3-3-5 alignment left with coordinator Jeff Casteel, line coach Bill Kirelawich and cornerbacks coach David Lockwood, all of whom went to Arizona to coach under Rich Rodriguez. In their place is a new group of Joe DeForest, Keith Patterson and Erik Slaughter. They're joined by former receivers coach Daron Roberts, who moved over to coach the corners, and the only holdover, Steve Dunlap, who will split his time between defense and special teams.
In some ways, the scheme won't look all that different. DeForest said when he was hired that a lot of times fans have a hard time distinguishing between and 3-4 and a 4-3 or a 3-3-5 because in all of those defenses there are players who move around constantly.
Head coach Dana Holgorsen doesn't see that much difference in the pure alignment either.
"Coverage wise, stuff is going to be relatively similar, but the front is going to be different,'' Holgorsen said. "The fits are going to be different and how they are coached is different.''
And then there is that philosophy that took Rigg aback when he first heard it - be patient. It almost seemed to go against his nature.
"It's totally different,'' said Rigg, who has gone from playing an outside linebacker in the 3-3-5 to one of the two inside spots in the 3-4. "The first couple days I've been playing like last year and taking whatever I can. They keep telling me to be patient and that's just totally different from what I learned the past couple years.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.