WVU's Tyler Anderson
MORGANTOWN - It took Erik Slaughter a while to notice Tyler Anderson.
And why not? After all, when Slaughter arrived as West Virginia's defensive line coach just before spring practice began, he had a ton of catching up to do. And it's not like the players he was coaching were household names or established players. Only two - Will Clarke and Jorge Wright - have ever started a game.
So when Slaughter tried to sort out the 15 or so guys he had to work with, a junior walk-on from the local high school didn't command much immediate attention.
"It took me a while [to notice him] because I didn't know any of them,'' Slaughter said. "But he came in and was serious about what he was doing and passionate about what he's doing, which I am, too.
"Because of that, I think we hit it off right away. I love his effort and intensity. And that's the kind of kids I want up front.''
Well, heading into West Virginia's opener a week from today against Marshall, Anderson has made enough of an impression that he's likely to be in the starting lineup. As he was after spring practice, he's listed as a starter.
Technically it's not on the defensive line. Anderson is playing the Buck linebacker spot in West Virginia's 3-4 scheme. But you might as well call that a defensive lineman because much of the time the Buck linebacker walks up on the line as a rush end.
That's like coming home for Anderson, who as a sophomore at Morgantown High played as a stand-up end and then his final two years he spent doing exactly what he's doing now - playing outside linebacker with a lot of time being spent stepping up to the line.
"It's been different for me almost every year,'' Anderson said. "When the old coaches were here, I came from high school knowing all that stuff and then trying to forget all of that and playing in the 3-3-5. That was hard. But morphing back to it now, it's like it all came back to me. It all clicked.
"It's kind of what I did in high school, standing up on the end.''
Of course, doing it at the highest Division I level is a bit of a step up, but that's the challenge Anderson wanted all along. After his senior season at Morgantown High, he had a scholarship offer from Bowling Green, but turned it down to walk on at West Virginia.
Three-plus years later, Anderson is no longer a walk-on. He was put on scholarship for the fall semester and has more than proven he wasn't wrong when he thought he could play at the highest level. He's added weight and muscle and now packs 244 pounds on a 6-foot-2 frame and is pretty much an ideal size. Much bigger and he couldn't move around at linebacker and much smaller and he'd be overwhelmed on the line.
Still, though, he has trouble explaining his position to friends when anyone asks him.
"I usually tell them I'm a stand-up D-end,'' Anderson said. "But sometimes I tell them linebacker, too. I really don't know how you categorize it.''
The same thing goes for West Virginia's new defensive scheme, which is technically a 3-4, but with the Buck can become a 4-3 without substitution. But no matter what one calls it, Anderson likes it.
"It's more up-tempo,'' Anderson said. "In the old defense you always had to worry about your technique and play it right and it was confusing. You still have to do that now, but in this defense it seems like you just get more of a chance to make plays.''
How many plays Anderson - or the entire defense, for that matter - makes this season remains to be seen. There are a handful of starters returning on that defense, but everyone is playing either a new position or a new technique under a new coaching staff.
"Tyler is not unlike most of the guys I have right now in that they've never started a football game,'' Slaughter said. "But he's doing great. He's a very intelligent young man and he cares and I think he has a chip on his shoulder because he was unrecruited and he was a walk-on. He comes in every day to prove a point and I like that. I know I can count on him.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.