MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Quarterbacks wear a yellow jersey in practice throughout the spring, summer, and early fall.
It’s not to show they’re leading the Tour de France, but it’s a way of telling players on the defense “don’t touch me.”
Once the football season ends, defensive players go many long, hard-working months without being able to do the one thing they like to do more than almost anything in the world – put the quarterback on the ground.
“I love it. It’s fun sacking the quarterback,” Jared Bartlett said with a smile on Wednesday.
Despite being listed as a redshirt sophomore, Bartlett is in his fourth year in this defensive scheme. He’s part of a defensive unit that has a wealth of experience, even with a mix of new and established players.
The linebackers and secondary are moving faster, according to Bartlett. The defensive line is explosive, and as experienced as any position group in the program.
“I would say this is definitely one of the most fun defenses I’ve been a part of,” said Bartlett. “Everyone’s explosive. Everyone’s fast. Everyone’s hungry. It’s really exciting. It’s just fun to wake up every morning, go out there, practice with them, get better.”
Bartlett, who will be West Virginia’s starting bandit this season, appeared in all 13 games at the position in 2021. He started three games, and finished the year with career-highs in total tackles (31), tackles for loss (6), and tied his career-high with 3.5 sacks.
Defensive play-making ability is in his blood. His older brother, Stephon Tuitt, announced his retirement in June after seven productive seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But even as a veteran player, who has been with the Mountaineers since 2019, Bartlett is still fine-tuning his game.
“I’m learning what moves to do with certain sets,” said the Miami, Florida native. “How to really put forth my talent towards the scheme, and maneuver that to make myself more productive.”
West Virginia had four different players start at the bandit position last fall. The hope is that Bartlett locks the position down, and is the every-game starter there for the foreseeable future.
Bartlett stands at 6-foot, 2-inches tall, and weighs 235 pounds, appearing to be mostly muscle. Hearing him speak about the position, he certainly has the body makeup of what he believes the prototypical bandit should be.
“I would say the perfect bandit is someone who can rush, and affect the quarterback. Someone who can drop back and affect the pass game,” said Bartlett. “Someone who could fit the run. Someone who can set the edge, or fit inside run gaps. It’s like a mixture of a D-end, an inside linebacker, and a nickel.”
In essence, West Virginia’s starting bandit needs to be a complete football player. Bartlett has shown flashes of being just that.
“The way I’ve been practicing lately is taking it day by day,” Bartlett said. “Once you establish consistency, and continue to play at a high level, good things happen.”
Rushing the passer has always come naturally to Bartlett. Even if the raw statistics don’t show gaudy sack numbers, it’s evident when watching him play that he possesses that capability.
Take the Virginia Tech game in Morgantown last season. Bartlett finished the day with five total tackles, three sacks, and a forced fumble. His third sack of the game couldn’t have come in a bigger moment, as he wrapped up the Hokies quarterback on 4th & goal from the Mountaineers’ six-yard line.
The big performance earned him Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week, as well as Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Seven months later, just a few yards away from where he made that potentially game-saving sack against Virginia Tech, Bartlett was one of four WVU players who were named 2022 Iron Mountaineer Award winners. He was the only player on the defense to receive the award.