Communication Is Key

Jared Barber

College football players live a lifestyle a Spartan could be proud of during summers, dominated by weightlifting and conditioning exercises. But the 7-on-7 drills players participate in during the coming months will be particularly important for West Virginia's defense.

Spring practice offered Mountaineer players a chance to get acclimated to the hybrid 3-4 defense they will utilize this season, a scheme that is in some respects a vast departure from the 3-3-5 attack that was an intrinsic part of WVU football for a decade.

But the lessons of spring can easily begin to wane in the long months from the Gold-Blue game until the start of preseason practices in August. Thus, 7-on-7 drills are a chance for players to stay mentally sharp -- and keep one another accountable -- during the summer.

"It's huge," linebacker Jared Barber said. "The past 10 years, Coach [Jeff] Casteel was here, and everybody knew [the defensive scheme]. All the seniors knew the ins-and-outs and could teach us.

"Now we're all kind of on the same page. We're all trying to teach each other. Somebody will mess up and guys will try to correct them, say, ‘No, this is it.' We're learning. But everybody still has a lot more to learn, so it's definitely good for everybody to be out there."

The method of the attack co-defensive coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson will direct this season is based on some principles that differ markedly from Casteel's defense.

Much was made during the spring of the relatively assignment-free nature of West Virginia's new defense. Players and coaches alike indicated that defenders -- particularly those in the linebacking corps and the secondary -- will have far more freedom to allow their athleticism and instincts to take over during play. The philosophy is a relatively simple one: get to the ball and make a play.

But those goals aren't easily accomplished without having a deeply-rooted trust between those on the "back end" of the defense. Communication will be key, lest one player's aggressiveness turn into a missed assignment and points for the opposition.

That ability to communicate on the fly is another skill tested and improved during summer 7-on-7 drills, when the linebackers and secondary only have each other to rely upon, and quarterbacks typically have far more time to try to exploit any holes that exist.

"It gets you a lot more comfortable," Barber noted. "And what I've noticed this year, as a defense, is we talk a lot more. This defense, we're going to have to, for sure. So it's helping a lot."

Beyond those specific on-field goals, summer is a time when most players have relatively similar ideals in mind.

And though the Mountaineers are working to grasp a new scheme and enter the fall season as prepared as possible mentally, the physical side of the game is hardly being neglected as summer workouts ramp up.

"We're lifting every day. Running every day," Barber said. "We're just trying to get bigger, stronger, faster and get ready."

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