MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As one of West Virginia’s most experienced defenders, bandit Jared Bartlett is plenty familiar with the process of spring football.
Now a redshirt junior, Bartlett is embarking on his fourth spring football in preparation for his fifth season with the Mountaineers.
“There’s a saying greatness is mundane,” Bartlett said. “Working on the fundamentals can get really tedious, but you know at the end of the day, that’s what’s going to get you where you need to be. It can be difficult at times because you’re doing the same thing over and over again.”
Fundamentals have precisely been Bartlett’s focus over the last month, and as the Mountaineers wind down with spring practice leading into Saturday’s annual Gold-Blue Game that concludes it, a player WVU is relying on to provide a consistent pass rush has worked to fine-tune the basics.
“It’s easy to really focus on technique things, the fundamentals,” Bartlett said. “You go back to what [head] coach [Neal] Brown said about this spring and working on fundamentals, just getting back to my technique. That’s how you make routine plays and what makes you a better player.”
Bartlett says those include, but are not limited to hand placement, shedding blocks and gap responsibility — all traits that will create more success defensively.
The Mountaineers, whose defensive struggles were well-documented a season ago as they struggled to prevent big plays and rarely generated turnovers, have also worked to become a better tackling team.
Although contact is limited for large portions of spring practice, Bartlett says he’s noticed improvement as it pertains to getting the opposing unit on the ground.
“We’re a better tackling defense. We really focused on that this spring and you can see that in the way that we practice,” Bartlett said. “Guys are flying around more because everyone knows what to do. I’d say we’re ahead by a considerable margin than past springs.”
As one of the team’s primary veterans, Bartlett would know.
During a redshirt season in 2019, Bartlett still played extensively in four contests. The following year, he played in all 10 WVU contests and was second on the squad with 3.5 sacks. Bartlett had another 3.5 sacks in 2021, including three with a fumble forced and recovered in a win over Virginia Tech that led to him being named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week.
Bartlett registered another 2.5 sacks in 2022 and enters the season ahead with 9.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss in his career.
This year, he’s hoping to work alongside several new starters up front to put forth his most productive season yet.
Defensive lineman Sean Martin, also a key contributor of the past, figures to continue assuming an expanded role, while Edward Vesterinen is also likely to see his snap count increase along the defensive front.
With Dante Stills having exhausted his eligibility and nose guard Jordan Jefferson transferring to LSU, the Mountaineers are hopeful Mike Lockhart, Hammond Russell and Davoan Hawkins, an offseason addition by way of transfer from Tennessee State, develop into a reliable trio that helps provide the unit with needed depth.
“A lot of guys need to carry more weight now to put it plainly,” Bartlett said, “which we have the depth to do that.”
The 6-foot-2, 237-pound Bartlett says he hopes to to play the season at 240, but resorts back to being fundamentally sound and not trying to do too much for what can help him cause more disruption in the backfield.
“Everyone’s really focused on their technique,” Bartlett said. “We have a saying called one-eleventh, and playing your one-eleventh and doing your job is how you become a better defense.”
In the process, Bartlett says it’s imperative edge rushers work with interior linemen to create the best possible pass rush for a unit that returns players responsible for 15 of the team’s 26 sacks last season, though two belonged to then-defensive back Davis Mallinger, who has since been converted to wide receiver.
“Pass rush in general is pretty conjoined. If you have a guy on the edge that’s rushing up the field, the quarterback can step up and it makes it difficult to get sacks,” Bartlett said. “If you have guys in the middle getting pressure and the quarterback goes outside, then they can’t affect the ball either. It’s a mutual relationship between the two.”