Ready or not, the spotlight is coming for West Virginia University sophomore linebacker Josh Chandler.
Chandler steps into his role as WVU’s Will linebacker not only in the shadow of David Long, the 2018 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and current Tennessee Titans rookie, but also with some new responsibilities that come with the position in first-year defensive coordinator Vic Koenning’s defense.
In the new-look West Virginia defense, Chandler said the Will is more of a combination of a Will linebacker and a bandit safety in the 3-3-5 defense the Mountaineers previously used.
“It’s kind of like an overhang,” Chandler said. “Sometimes I have to cover deep, cover the flat or be in the box.”
In other words, the former Canton (Ohio) McKinley High standout is being asked to do a little bit of everything.
That’s just fine by Koenning, who said he expects big things from Chandler in 2019. If teams don’t know about Chandler early in the season, Koenning said, he expects opponents will take notice quickly.
“He’s probably, of all the guys on the team, and it’s not quite to his nature yet but he’s going to be a guy [opponents] probably need to find,” Koenning said. “I would say by the middle of the year they’re going to try to find out where he’s at.”
Chandler has been a hit with first-year WVU coach Neal Brown and his staff since spring practice, when he established himself as Long’s replacement on the weak-side.
“He comes to work every day,” WVU outside linebackers coach Al Pogue said. “He takes coaching really well. I can see that he’s a weight room guy, he takes notes in meetings, he asks good questions. I think he’s really committed to what we’re trying to do. So when you put in the work and the effort like he’s doing, you know he’s poised to make it a big season.”
Since the spring, when he was named as an Iron Mountaineer award winner for his work in the weight room, Chandler said he has lost 10 pounds of fat while putting on muscle at the same time. That has made him quicker, and it has shown on the practice fields in Morganotwn during preseason camp.
Chandler has been consistently among the first names mentioned by coaches when asked who has stood out in practice, which is impressive considering it has been a while since he has been responsible for much pass coverage.
“I played safety early on in my career, but I’m getting adjusted to [the new responsibilities] and working with the new staff,” Chandler said. “We have different drills that we do to help us get acclimated to pass coverage.”
As a freshman at WVU, Chandler was Long’s backup and saw playing time in 12 games, mostly on special teams. In that time, he made 14 total tackles and recovered a fumble at Oklahoma State. The next step is emerging as a leader for the Mountaineer defense. It’s a role Chandler said he is ready to take on.
“I’ve been trying to work on my leadership skills. My teammates are empowering me to be in more of a leadership role, so that is something I have been working on.”