MORGANTOWN. W.Va. — If West Virginia’s defense makes the strides necessary to compete in the Big 12, linebacker Jared Barber suggested it will hinge on two factors: toughness and communication.
Barber is among the holdovers from the 2012 unit that produced a weekly cavalcade of busted assignments on its way to allowing 64 touchdowns.
“We didn’t have really good communication last year,” he said. “We kind of just played by the seat of our pants.”
Though fall camp is only seven days old, the junior linebacker said change is evident—in the way coaches are demanding improvement, and the manner in which players are responding. Barber made six starts in his first two seasons, yet there’s no guarantee he’ll be among the first unit when West Virginia opens the season Aug. 31 against William & Mary. He ended spring listed as the backup to sophomore Nick Kwiatkoski at the Will inside linebacker.
“We’ve got a lot of kids that have played, and the competition is really high,” Barber said. “In practice every rep counts. You have to push yourself a lot more.”
Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, who oversees the linebackers, insisted Wednesday he’s “not ready to pat anyone on the back” so far. He even challenged the assertion that Sam linebacker Isaiah Bruce has a starting spot locked down, despite finishing second on the team with 94 tackles as a freshman.
Barber and Bruce are among the eight WVU linebackers who were three-star recruits coming out of high school. The Mountaineers have no linebackers on the current roster who ranked higher, though four-star signee Darrien Howard could alter that status if he qualifies. That reliance on developing midlevel prospects is a source of pride for Barber, who said “that’s what West Virginia football is about.”
He hopes this year’s unit can develop the sort of ruggedness and reliability that Patterson is seeking.
“We don’t get the four- or-five-star recruits a lot,” he said. “In the past we would get the two- or three-star recruits who come in. Maybe they’re not the most athletic, fastest or biggest guys, but they will work their butt off and play with a lot of effort and intensity.”
BAGGING THE SACKS
WVU ranked only sixth in the Big 12 with 23 sacks last season, and more than half of those were compiled by three players who graduated—Terence Garvin, Josh Francis and Jorge Wright.
Yet with uptempo passers getting rid of the ball quicker than ever, Patterson believes sacks will become harder to achieve. As much as he’d love to see the Mountaineers taking down the quarterback, Patterson said pressures might become the new benchmark.
“We have a production board, and we give our D-line and ‘backers points for hurries,” he said. “That quarterback hurry might result in an overthrown ball or a ball that’s thrown short, or it might even be the cause of an interception.”
Brian Mitchell said WVU’s cornerbacks battle has “narrowed down to about six guys,” though he won’t hint at the frontrunners.
“I don’t think we have a first-team, second-team or third-team. We have a collective that are trying to vie for two starting positions,” Mitchell said Wednesday.
“Each one of them has a specific talent, but we’re trying to develop that complete player.”