2010 Is Make or Break For the 3-3-5 Mountaineer Defense

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 19:  Darvin Adams #89 of the Auburn Tigers scores a touchdown as he gets tackled by Robert Sands #2 of the West Virginia Mountaineers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 19, 2009 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The biggest question I have about the West Virginia Mountaineers coming into the 2010 season, and for that matter every season since 2001, is does Jeff Casteel’s 3-3-5 defensive alignment really work?

The 3-3-5 was born in response to the latest wave of spread formations taking root at all levels of football, and to take advantage of an extra secondary players speed. I’m going to save a X’s and O’s break down, because if the 3-3-5 can be an effective college defense the evidence should be on the field this year. The ‘Eers return 9 defensive starters, and the next 2 have seen game action. There are no more excuses.

CINCINNATI - NOVEMBER 13:  Scooter Berry #93 of the West Virginia Mountaineers celebrates after a funble recovery on the one yard line in the second quarter of the game against the Cincinnati Bearcats in at Nippert Stadium on November 13, 2009 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)The real key to any 3 man front is the D-Lineman. They need to have the ability and presence to take clog up the offensive lineman so that the speed of the eight players behind them can make plays. 6-4, 260lb junior Julian Miller will be on the end looking to improve upon his 14 tackles for loss and 9 sacks a year ago. 6-2, 301 pound senior Chris Neild mans the nose, he demands two blockers at all times and will be a huge, if somewhat silent factor in the defenses success. At tackle 6-1, 287 pound senior Scooter Berry is coming off of shoulder surgery and if he can regain his 2008 form we could be looking at the best D-line since the Nehlen era.

CINCINNATI - NOVEMBER 13: Isaiah Pead #23 of the Cincinnati Bearcats is grabbed by J.T. Thomas #30 of the West Virginia Mountaineers in the fourth quarter of the game at Nippert Stadium on November 13, 2009 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The linebacker core is solid and as experenced as you get in college football, where 3 seniors will lead the way for the Mountaineers. Anthony Leonard was Reed Williams stand in, so while a new starter, he has seen plenty of action and is ready. JT Thomas is the spark plug that makes the engine go, and is always within striking distance of the ball. Rounding out the group is Pat Lazear, last seasons top tackler.

CINCINNATI - NOVEMBER 13:  Adrien Robinson #88 of the Cincinnati Bearcats is hit by Keith Tandy #8 of the West Virginia Mountaineers and fumbles the ball in the first quarter of the game at Nippert Stadium on November 13, 2009 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The secondary has all the signs of having a outstanding year. Brandon Hogan is getting the attention of NFL scouts at corner. On the other side is Keith Tandy, a man much maligned last year, but he learned from his mistakes and progressed as the year moved on. Tandy was feast or famine last year, and he will be hungry going into the fall.

The free saftey spot belongs to 6-5 221lb junior Robert Sands, this will be the season the world takes notice of his ability. He is has the size of a linebacker with the speed of a free safety, the sky is the limit. At the strong/spur safety positions the ‘Eers have hard hitting veteran senior Sidney Glover, and sophomore Terence Garvin. Consistency will be a key, but it is clear all the tools are there.

On paper its a little scary how good this years Mountaineers D is, that is of course why they play the games. I find my self using years of built up Appalachian fatalism to curb my enthusiasm. Who is really on the hot seat is Devensive Coordinator Jeff Casteel and his 3-3-5. To my original question, can it work? Even the near miss 11-2 season, the D was just enough to hold on, nothing to write home about. For the first time the players are all there, so we shall see and know for sure at seasons end. If Casteel can’t make it work with this unit, it will be time for a change.

Special thanks to WVUStats.com

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