MORGANTOWN — West Virginia’s defense dealt with more than its share of injuries a season ago. One of the most significant blows didn’t even happen on the field.
The Mountaineers’ depth on the defensive line — and especially at nose tackle — took a hit when Christian Brown went down. He was being counted on as the backup and perhaps eventual heir to Shaq Rowell. When he was lost, the shuffling was such that eight games into the season true freshman Darien Howard had his redshirt pulled in order to just get through the season.
And it was all because of a misstep in the weight room.
“We were doing box steps,’’ Brown said of simple exercises consisting of stepping on and off of small platforms. “As I was stepping down I kind of hit the bottom of the box and all my momentum went to that one ankle.’’
The result was not just a twisted ankle, but a dislocated one.
Brown didn’t need surgery on the ankle. It was simply put back into place and he had to heal and rehabilitate it for three or four months.
“It was pretty ugly,’’ Brown said. “I was trying not to look at it too much when it happened, but once I stood up and looked at it I kind of realized how bad it was.’’
Much has changed for Brown since then. He’s no longer a nose tackle, but instead a 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive end. Brown was a defensive end as a senior in high school, so it’s not alien to him.
“Nose and defensive end are a lot different,’’ Brown said. “Now you have to worry about playing contain on the quarterback.’’
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One of the differences Dana Holgorsen is dealing with in this camp as opposed to the previous ones is that he has experienced players. And because of that, instead of spending an inordinate amount of time trying to find out who his best players are, he and his staff can work on making them better.
He knows who his starters are for the most part and so that’s a huge task already checked off the list.
There are, however, still a few holes.
“I feel good about it offensively and where we’re at with that. There are some guys that we’ve been able to count on in the past who are continuing to show us that,’’ Holgorsen said. “We still have to develop a sixth lineman, a seventh lineman, an eighth lineman and a couple of backup receivers. And who’s going to get the specific reps at running back? All that stuff, we will continue to monitor that.
“Defensively, it’s probably a little trickier because we have more bodies — more guys who are available to identify who does what right and who doesn’t. It’s a constant evaluation. To set a depth chart doesn’t mean anything is set in stone for the rest of the year, as we all know. We’ve harped a lot on building depth, which we are. When guys get the starting nod, and they go down, who are the guys we can count on to go in there and perform at a high level to win games? The two-deep is important. It’s not just who are the actual starters. It’s who is going to be able to go in and make plays, as well.’’
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It didn’t take long for Shaquille Riddick to work his way up the ladder.
By the beginning of the second week of camp the graduate transfer from Gardner-Webb was working with the No. 1 defense at end, along with Kyle Rose at nose and Brown at the other end.
Riddick was listed first on the depth chart prior to the start of camp, but he still had to play his way up to that spot.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.