Linebackers: Will they be nasty or negligible?

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Today continues a position-by-position examination of where the West Virginia football team stands after spring practice.

The eight-day video series runs through the two-deep as we look four months ahead to the Mountaineers’ 2014 opener against Alabama and Year 3 in the Big 12 Conference.


Tuesday, April 15
 Defensive line: Can no-name group hold the front?
Wednesday, April 16
 Linebackers: Will they be nasty or negligible?
Thursday, April 17
 Secondary: Trying to reverse two dreadful years of pass defense
Friday, April 18
 Special teams: Aiming to be really special in 2014?
Monday, April 21
 Offensive line: Are the Mountaineers vulnerable up front?
Tuesday, April 22
 Receivers: Can they get their swagger back?
Wednesday, April 23
 Running backs: Is this the best unit in the Big 12?
Thursday, April 24
 Quarterbacks: Can any of the current QBs win eight games?


After playing the Spur outside linebacker spot last season, West Virginia’s Isaiah Bruce sounds glad to be returning inside to the Sam spot this spring.


Isaiah Bruce likes the traffic involved with playing middle linebacker, the busy crush of bodies through which he made 94 tackles as a freshman. Last season, he shifted outside to Spur at the request of then-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. The fact that Bruce made only 43 tackles was partly a function of the position—and not necessarily evidence that Bruce was being used at the wrong one—yet his TFLs dropped and he didn’t register a single sack, even though part of the reason behind the move was to unleash Bruce as an edge rusher.

With Patterson gone and West Virginia transforming the Spur into what is essentially a nickel back, Bruce has happily returned to his old inside spot, happy once again to be playing in traffic.

“I feel really comfortable inside,” he said. “Seeing everything, rather than just one side, is a lot better for me.”

New defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, who’s overseeing the linebackers with Damon Cogdell, said players like Bruce sometimes don’t acclimate to playing in space, don’t like feeling neutralized when teams run to the other side. Hence his return inside, allowing Bruce to flourish in straight-on attack mode and making the defense more nimble with safety K.J. Dillon at Spur.

Projected starters: Bruce (6-2, 232, redshirt junior) at the Sam spot and Nick Kwiatkoski (6-2, 230, redshirt junior) at the Mike are manning the middle, with Brandon Golson (6-2, 230, senior) at the Will on the outside.

Backups: Junior college transfer Edward Muldrow (6-3, 206, junior) looms behind Bruce, while Jared Barber (6-0, 228, senior) and Al-Rasheed Benton (6-0, 238, redshirt freshman) are the top reserves at Mike. At weakside linebacker, Sean Walters (6-2, 223 sophomore) is a rangy prospect, and Shaq Petteway (6-0, 233, redshirt junior) is back from a knee injury that sidelined him in 2013.

Watch the video at the top of the page for player highlights and to learn how Allan Taylor and Justin Hoff grade the linebackers after spring practice.

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