If you’ve ever wondered why I’m continuing to write after my sports journalism career, it’s simple. By writing this blog each Monday, I’m hoping to spread the word of Wheelhouse Creative. My new firm can be summed up as a big-city marketing and advertising firm that is proudly in West Virginia. I’m trying to spread the word – by using my words. (If you’re a businessman or woman, by the way, I invite you to look around this website, especially the “Works” tab. If nothing else, check out the video work. You’ll be impressed.)
Anyway, this past Thursday I visited my old stomping grounds of Morgantown and attended a WVU football press conference featuring new coach Neal Brown and all his assistants. And my very first impression was this: The paranoia of the previous regime has vanished. Brown was relaxed and cordial. Ditto his assistants. The experience was – dare I say it? – pleasant.
Yet – and this should be both important and refreshing to Mountaineer fans — these guys seem not only competent but confident.
Let me provide an example. When discussing prior problems landing high quality defensive linemen at WVU, new line coach Jordan Lesley didn’t blink. “Well, we’ll have to change that,” he said.
New defensive coordinator Vic Koenning took it a step beyond.
“There’s no doubt,” Koenning said. “We just have to go get them. I don’t think you can’t – because there are plenty around.
“Try recruiting d-linemen in Troy, Alabama,” he went on. “Try beating SEC schools on guys. There were some guys that signed in December to Troy that could easily come in here and play. We just have to go find some that fit here.”
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So what kind of defense will Koenning run?
The best way to put it is “multiple.” It seems Koenning’s units mostly line up with three spots up front – a nose guard, a defensive tackle and an anchor end. Yet it fluctuates.
Here’s the history:
“I was actually up a few weeks ago visiting with [Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator] Keith Butler,” Koenning said. “He and I were together at Memphis when a guy named Tim Rose [now at Ashland University] came. We had been running [former Ole Miss coach] Joe Lee Dunn’s system, which is kind of a blitz, sort-of odd stack system. We did 3-4 angle-slant-man-blitz concept.
“Then Tim Rose brought in the Miami stack 4-3. We kind of married the two systems. I’m not saying we do it the same, but I try to get to some of the same things.”
Koenning said he’d watched the last Super Bowl just before the day’s luncheon.
“New England was playing a five-man box a lot against the Rams’ press split stuff,” Koenning said. “That’s what we beat LSU with a couple years ago.”
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Of course, Koenning is taking over a defense that – to put it kindly – has struggled in recent years. In total defense, WVU finished No. 101 in 2013-14, No. 66 in 2014-15, No. 61 in 2015-16, No. 74 in 2016-17, No. 106 in 2017-18 and No. 74 last season. That means the Mountaineers finished in the bottom half of FBS defenses five of the last six years. The exception was when WVU finished No. 61 of 127 teams in 2015-16.
“There are a lot of holes to fill,” Koenning said. “We have a bunch of guys that want to. We’re going to see how far we can take the want-to and make it into able-to.”
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There are a lot of new terms (“spear,” for example) and coaches to learn, but also players.
And one of those players Mountaineer fans might get to know very soon is junior college transfer Taijh Alston, who initially went to East Carolina before moving to Copiah-Lincoln Community College.
Lesley indicated the redshirt sophomore will get the first crack at defensive end.
“I actually knew the kid a little last year,” Lesley said. “We recruited him early at Troy – and then he started getting some bigger offers. Long kid. He has a lot of natural tools. Strong. He’s a little behind after coming off appendicitis in January, but he’ll give us a presence on the edge. He has some fundamental work to do, but he has three years to play. Excited about him.”