MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – There will be many familiar faces along West Virginia’s defensive line this season, though they may be doing some unfamiliar things.
The coaching change will be particularly noticeable along the defensive front. Even though the Mountaineers will still be a three-man front, the way they go about attacking opposing offenses will be different.
As defensive line coach Jordan Lesley noted at the start of spring practice, “I don’t want guys that are gonna eat up blocks.”
The idea is for the linemen to create chaos in the backfield rather than just engaging the offensive line and allowing linebackers and defensive backs to have all the fun. Under Lesley and defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, Troy finished in the Top 15 nationally in tackles for loss each of the last two seasons. Here is how West Virginia’s defensive line should look this fall.
Anchor (Weakside defensive end)
Alston, a January enrollee from Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Junior College, was the biggest revelation for the Mountaineers in spring practice and played his way to the top of the depth chart.
Pooler also had a sound spring, showing that he has a chance to be counted on to play a much higher snap count than the 150 he logged as a sophomore last year.
Qualls, a senior who lost last year to a knee injury, will likely be on the field in obvious pass-rushing situations.
Jones is a graduate transfer from Michigan who wouldn’t have picked West Virginia if there wasn’t a chance that he would elevate up the depth chart in rapid fashion. He will be a player to watch in August training camp.
A year after younger brother Dante was named a freshman all-American, Darius is poised for his own breakthrough season. “He’s been one of the most impressive linemen,” Lesley said this spring.
With nose tackle being perhaps the most grueling position on the field, Thrift will be counted on to contribute much more than the five games he appeared in as a junior.
Newcomer Jordan Jefferson enters the fray with a chance to be one of West Virginia’s impact freshmen. Jefferson is among the handful of players to sign at WVU in February after Neal Brown took over the program.
Strong-side defensive end
In Donahue and Stills, the Mountaineers have two first-stringers vying to get on the field at the same position. Donahue will unquestionably be the overall leader of West Virginia’s defense. His importance in that context increased significantly when junior safety Kenny Robinson entered the transfer portal.
Stills had three sacks and two forced fumbles in his freshman all-America season.
Wolfley, who was a nightmare for the second-string offensive line in the spring game, will look to shore up the depth at the position in his senior season.
True freshman Thornton joins the Stills brothers and Wolfley as a Mountaineer legacy along the defensive line. His dad John was an all-American at WVU who went on to a 10-year NFL career.