MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–Heading into the season, West Virginia’s defensive line is a questionable area due to a new coaching staff, new schemes and new faces.
Despite being an extremely talented group, the d-line must adapt to a new scheme. Instead of the 3-3-5, defensive coordinator Vic Koenning will implement the 4-2-5 alignment.
While the scheme is different, most positions won’t change too much. However, the biggest question is how will the inexperience affect the d-line in the long haul?
With camp underway, Koenning is pleased with the way the d-line is progressing.
“The D-line is making good progress and our footwork is much improved from the spring,” he said. We’re learning how to go forward instead of catch. I expect us to be a lot better on the d-line too.”
Newcomer Rueben Jones has been a significant upgrade. The Michigan transfer saw action in 11 games for the Wolverines during his career there.
“It’s like getting an IV when you’re dehydrated,” Koenning said. “You start feeling a lot better. I feel a lot better watching him run around out there.”
Much like Jabril Robinson and Kenny Bigelow, the Mountaineers are expecting big things from Jones.
Head coach Neal Brown loves the energy the 6-foot-4, 250-pound redshirt senior brings to the locker room.
“Jones is a high-effort guy. He played in a limited role at Michigan last year but you could see that he’s extremely active on film,” Brown said. “We just didn’t have a lot of guys in that room that were bouncing around. Guys that show up smiling every day. When the weight room opens up, they’re the first ones there. The first ones out in juice squad. They set the tone with the energy level. We have that with him.”
Senior Reese Donahue returns and adds the same energy and veteran leadership as Jones.
The 6-foot-4, 285-pound defensive tackle has seen action in 37 career games, including 25 starts. Last season he racked up 24 tackles for the season, including 13 solo stops, one sack, two tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.
Behind Donahue is Dante Stills.
As a freshman the 6-foot-3, 295-pounder registered 16 tackles for the year, including 13 solo stops, three sacks, six tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. ESPN.com and the Athletic named him a Freshman All-American.
His brother Darius is expected to start at nose tackle. The elder Stills brother had 12 tackles for the season, including eight solo tackles, one sack and 3.5 tackles for loss in 12 contests.
Benton Thrift is listed as the backup at nose. He saw action in five games last season.
Koenning’s scheme adds a bandit position, which is the toughest position on the line. It requires a player to be both versatile and dynamic and requires a lot of pass-rushing abilities.
Alabama transfer VanDarius Cowan is expected to make an immediate impact at bandit. He played as a true freshman but sat out last season to fulfill NCAA requirements.
Cowan is talented but has limited experience.
Charlie Benton and Zach Sandwisch are listed as Cowan’s backups
Former defensive tackle Jeffery Pooler and linebacker Quondarius Qualls have both switched to defensive ends.
Stone Wolfley is a senior with limited experience but could see playing time at defensive tackle.
Taijh Alston arrived at WVU in January after a season at Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Community College. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound sophomore is an athletic pass rusher and is listed as WVU’s top defensive end.
The Mountaineers’ defensive line possesses a lot of talent and depth but its inexperience will be the telltale of just how good they will be.
Cover Photo Credit: Shanna Rose, BGS