BUILDING SOME DEPTH
MORGANTOWN – When you look up and down the West Virginia University football depth chart, one thing that stands out is amount of depth at linebacker.
It’s the deepest position for the Mountaineers as they return 10 lettermen, including four players with starting experience, from last season.
It’s that depth, according to redshirt junior Isaiah Bruce, that will make for a strong core in the defense’s second-level.
“All the linebackers love to compete,” Bruce said. “None of them want to be second best. Everyone wants that starting spot. Everybody has their talents. Some of them may be faster, some may be stronger, some may be smarter. Whatever it is, we’re all going to be put in a situation that best helps the team. There’s definitely a lot of competition to where no one is comfortable to just sit in that spot.”
Bruce will move to Mike linebacker (inside) after spending last season at Spur linebacker (outside). While he still had a solid sophomore campaign, Bruce says the switch will make him that much better.
”I definitely feel more comfortable inside rather than outside,” Bruce said. ”I feel like I can see more instead of one side of the ball. I think I can react in more ways rather than just one.”
Bruce, who played Sam linebacker during a stellar freshman year, posted 43 tackles last season to go along with three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Another dominating force back at linebacker is tackling machine Nick Kwiatkoski. The redshirt junior will move to Will linebacker (weakside) for the 2014 season after finishing last season with a team-high 86 tackles, good for fifth overall in the Big 12.
“I’ve been trying to improve my footwork and my speed,” Kwiatkoski said of his focus for spring camp. ”Getting in the film room and working on my mental game. That’s probably my biggest thing I need to work on, being able to read things faster.”
Also back for the Mountaineers is senior Jared Barber. Barber sustained a season-ending knee injury against Texas, but still finished third on the team with 71 tackles. Over his career, he’s played in 32 games with 13 starts, seven of which came last season.
The fourth returning starter for West Virginia is Brandon Golson. The senior started all 12 games last season at Buck linebacker where he finished with 41 tackles, four sacks and five forced fumble.
Others in the mix are Wes Tonkery, Jewone Snow, Shaq Petteway, Al-Rasheed Benton, Edward Muldrow, Isaac McDonald, Hodari Christian and Sean Walters.
“I feel the intensity is a lot higher this summer,” Kwiatkoski said. “Everything is just at a higher level. We have a lot of people coming back, a lot of athletes.”
It might sound odd, but kickers can overdo it in practice, too. Josh Lambert can attest to that.
The Mountaineers kicker says he over kicked last season.
“I think my biggest thing this year is staying healthy,” the redshirt sophomore said. “I over kicked. It started during camp last year. It was just downhill ever since.”
Lambert connected on 74 percent (17 of 23) of his kicks during his freshman campaign. He also had a long of 50 yards against Kansas State and a 34-yard game-winner against TCU in overtime.
The Texas native said he’s been spending time in the weight room doing squats, something he hasn’t done in the past.
“I’ve been hitting a lot better footballs,” Lambert said. “I think squatting has helped a lot.”