MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Three days into his first preseason camp at West Virginia, assistant coach Tom Bradley noticed a tell-tale sign from the Mountaineers’ defensive linemen.
“They don’t run around like a bunch of fat kids,” he said. “They get to the ball.”
This is Bradley’s 34th camp overall, and during the previous 33 at Penn State he helped construct some hellacious defenses—the kind of hellaciousness recently absent from West Virginia. Though the arrival of such a credentialed assistant may not suddenly transform WVU into a top-15 national defense like the ones Bradley designed at Happy Valley, there exists a presumption he will vastly improve the units that ranked 101st and 108th the past two seasons.
There’s another point of optimism for Bradley. As a frequent visitor to the weight room this summer, he saw no signs of last season’s losing record contaminating the culture.
“It’s not a team that trains like a 4-8 team, it’s not a team that practices like a 4-8 group,” he said. “They come out every day and give you some really great effort. That’s one of the things I’ve been impressed with.”
“They don’t run around like a bunch of fat kids. They get to the ball.” — Tom Bradley on West Virginia’s defensive linemen
Camp opened with senior Dontrill Hyman and redshirt sophomore Christian Brown at first-string defensive ends, and junior Kyle Rose entrenched at nose guard. None of those players popped up on preseason All-Big 12 teams or even those bloated watch lists for national awards.
“I don’t mind if we have a bunch of no-names in August—I just hope we have a couple names comes December,” Bradley said.
ROSE AT HOME INSIDE
Though Rose produced some noticeable plays at defensive end last season, he doesn’t possess the explosive mobility preferred in edge rushers. Thus, with two-year starter Shaq Rowell having graduated, Rose embraced a return to nose guard upon Bradley’s arrival last spring.
“I like the inside more,” Rose said. “Playing outside you get more single blocks, but inside fits me better. Not being as quick off the edge and having a wrestling background, it fits my style. Moving inside I’m able to make an impact.”
Bradley sensed Rose was willing to sacrifice tackles and sacks for the thankless, gap-plugging scrums that occur on the interior. “It’s nasty in there, and that’s a thankless task,” the coach said. “They’ve got to be muckers and grinders. Some guys don’t enjoy that, but Kyle does.”
At 293 pounds, Rose currently is 12 pounds lighter than Rowell’s listed weight last season, though he plans to be at 300 by the season opener Aug. 30. Coincidentally, Brown spent the summer slimming down after shifting outside from the nose.
“It’s college football and it’s all about where they need you,” Rose said. “If I had a good arm they’d put me at quarterback, but I don’t.
“Just being in there where the grind’s at—where you’ve got guys coming at you every play, being double-teamed and triple-teamed—I love that type of stuff.”
With Dana Holgorsen focused on the offense, West Virginia’s defensive staff essentially features “an extra guy,” according to Bradley, who was primarily a linebackers/secondary coach while serving as Penn State’s coordinator. The staff shuffling has created overlap.
First-year assistant Damon Cogdell, listed as linebackers coach, has been overseeing drills with defensive ends this week while Bradley concentrates on the interior linemen. First-year defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, WVU’s safeties coach in 2013, is working with linebackers but eventually hopes to float from unit to unit.
The overlapping responsibilities allows coaches to “get more position-specific out on the field,” Bradley said. “That’s good because now you give more individual attention to everybody.”