MORGANTOWN. W.Va. — His palms stretch high above his head in a double-Horshack, and then his elbows spread wide like he’s sizing up an amberjack that snapped the rigging.
Keith Patterson treats interview sessions like coaching clinics. He can’t discuss defense for 10 seconds without using his arms, and he doesn’t believe a Big 12 team can play defense effectively without long ones.
So, after three days of assessing the player inventory at preseason camp, Patterson raves about limbs and length on the front seven of his West Virginia defense.
“There’s times we can be really impressive-looking up front,” Patterson said.
Obviously there wasn’t much impressive about the 2012 defense, which Joe DeForest orchestrated for 12 games and Patterson oversaw leading up to the Pinstripe Bowl. Enter several game-ready junior college recruits who, when meshed with presumably more mature returnees, aiming to reduce the what-the-hell moments that characterized last year’s unit.
“We’d better,” Patterson said.
The juco cavalry that has Patterson pumped includes defensive end Dontrill Hyman (6-foot-4, 265 pounds) and Buck linebacker Brandon Golson (6-2, 230), while Spur linebacker d’Vante Henry (6-5, 205) is being held out of practice dealing with what Dana Holgorsen called “personal issues.”
All three have the athleticism to function in multiple alignments—a necessity with the proliferation of uptempo offenses severely limiting substitutions. These Big 12 schools want to play basketball on turf? Then Patterson will defend with basketball-style athletes.
“When you have guys who are 6-3, 6-4, and 6-5 dropping into coverage with their wingspans, those (passing) creases become smaller and the creases also become taller,” Patterson said. “So now the ball has to be elevated in order to get it over someone or it has to be thrown with a little more zip to be able to get it into that smaller window.”
“(Golson’s) more complete as a run-pass defender. Josh (Francis), he was a pass rusher, whereas Brandon—at 230 pounds with his frame and his strength—he’s an effective pass rusher and very effective versus the run. Not so much the situational stuff. — WVU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson
Because Golson was unable to enroll at WVU this summer, he was left to do his own conditioning at home in South Carolina. That doesn’t typically yield the same results as players working with a campus strength staff and building off the energy of their teammates. But Golson impressed coaches by showing up for camp in impressive shape.
“He’s pretty explosive,” Patterson said. “He’s everything we thought he was when we recruited him.”
At the Buck position, Golson features more versatility than the player he’s replacing, Josh Francis, who was second on the team with 4.5 sacks last year.
“This guy’s more complete as a run-pass defender,” Patterson said. “Josh, he was a pass rusher, whereas Brandon—at 230 pounds with his frame and his strength—he’s an effective pass rusher and very effective versus the run. Not so much (just) the situational stuff.
“When you have those hybrid-type bodies, where guys can play on their feet and stick their hands in the ground, that poses a problem (for offenses). When you can move into and out of a three-man front to a four-man front with the same people on the field, that’s an issue.”
Hyman could deliver the biggest impact of all, working as the bookend opposite 6-7 senior Will Clarke. Patterson doesn’t envision his rangy ends coming around the edge in futile chase of quarterbacks who chuck passes inside of two-Mississippi. Rather he sees them clogging the B-gap between the offensive guard and tackle, using their length to form human eclipses that disrupt the quarterback’s vision on quick slants.
“Then you’ve got a quarterback trying to throw over something that’s 9 feet tall,” said Patterson, arms raising again.
Better personnel unleashed in a wider variety of deployments—that’s what makes Patterson enthusiastic to see WVU’s defense reborn in 2013.
“By no stretch are we where we want to be, but thank God we’re not where we used to be.”