MORGANTOWN - It seemed one of the most enjoyable moments for West Virginia University fans last season surfaced when a certain Mountaineer tackled the quarterback.When Bruce Irvin made a sack, the Mountaineer faithful would rain down the word "Bruuuce."Well, Irvin has gone to the Seattle Seahawks. But WVU fans can retain their chant.Among the younger defensive players making a name for himself during the ongoing camp is Sam (strong-side inside linebacker) Isaiah Bruce, a 6-foot-1, 226-pound redshirt freshman.He's battling sophomore Shaq Petteway at the position. But even if Petteway ultimately ends up as the starter, Bruce will still get a good deal of playing time. His speed and athleticism have made that possible.How much speed? Well, while attending Providence High in Jacksonville, Fla., Bruce was a state champion in the 300-meter hurdles. It didn't take Dana Holgorsen's staff long to notice the player."I believe it started in the spring game," Bruce said. "I think I made a lot of plays. And in practice I'm always hustling, always getting to the ball. So I believe they feel I should be on the field and I can help the team a lot."
Bruce has seen much change in just one school year at WVU. He's experienced a new head coach, new defensive coordinator and new scheme."In the beginning it was a little difficult to get [the new scheme] to sink in," Bruce said. "I personally believe, though, it's so much easier to run [the 3-4] than the stack. The stack was kind of hard for me to comprehend. But this is easier for me, especially during camp."We see a lot of film and go over it so much that it's ingrained in your head. I'm getting it very well now."Bruce seems to be a student of the game.
"In the stack we had less anchor points, which is the D-line," said the freshman. "Now that we have the D-line and the Star and the Buck [linebacker positions] coming off the edges, you don't know which one is coming. It makes it harder for the offense to decide who is coming. In high school, I did both the 3-3 and the 3-4. I originally thought the 3-3 was better for me - until I got here."Bruce smiled."Everything works so much easier [in the 3-4]," he said. "You can be so much more patient."The defensive game plan for pass-happy Big 12 teams, Bruce said, is to stop the run and make the opponents one-dimensional. The addition of Petteway to the Sam position (from Star) clearly helps with that and challenges Bruce's playing time. But it does bolster the unit.
"In the spring, we didn't have much depth - especially at my position," Bruce said. "It was just me and [Nick] Kwiatkoski and it was very tiring and hurtful to your body. But with Shaq coming in it's really good. He had some playing time last year. That experience helps."So does the scheme for the inside linebackers."They keep it simple for the inside guys," Bruce said. "They like to mess with the line with the Buck and the Star. For the insiders, it's pretty straightforward."For Bruce, it's straightforward as well.Simply make the play. And await the chant.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.