Dante Stills is stealing all the headlines in the preseason, and for good reason. Everyone from news outlets to the Big 12 Conference has praised the homegrown Mountaineer star this summer, and he is poised to etch his name in the West Virginia football record books this season.
Obviously, Stills isn’t keeping WVU defensive line coach Andrew Jackson up at night, but rather the guys behind him on the depth chart. Luckily, that lack of sleep isn’t caused by a fear of those guys taking the field. Jackson is confident in nine of his defensive linemen, so the challenge is instead figuring out who should be getting which allotment of snaps.
“I’ve got to figure out how to get all these guys in the game,” Jackson said. “Hopefully it’s like hockey subs where you see three and four guys roll in at a time.”
Ideally, Jackson wants the starters to get 60 percent of the snaps on defense, then the second and third groups to evenly split the other 40 percent. According to WVU’s depth chart from the start of camp, Stills, Taijh Alston and Jordan Jefferson will get that 60 percent, but who will get which side of the last 40 percent?
There are six (or maybe seven) guys vying for those snaps — two transfers and four returners. If there’s one thing that they all have in common, it’s size.
“I hit the treadmill pretty hard this summer so I’m shrinking down to be the smallest guy in the room,” Jackson said. “But it’s good having guys that I can’t see around or see over, so I feel better — and more protected if I go out in public.”
One of those big guys is Mike Lockhart, a redshirt sophomore who joined the Mountaineers from Georgia Tech. He played in 21 games for the Yellow Jackets, so he provides a comfortable amount of Power Five experience to the D-line room.
Jackson said his knowledge of the game and his size (a listed 317 pounds) will help provide depth to that unit, wherever the team may need him.
“He’s a bit of a dancing bear, I wouldn’t just pin him as a nose because of what the scale says,” Jackson said. “We’ll see how he comes along further through camp.”
Sean Martin, a sophomore from Bluefield, West Virginia, is another guy fighting for those second-string snaps. He played in all 13 games as a freshman for WVU in 2021 at defensive end.
That might change this year, as Jackson said he has increased his versatility.
“He’s going to play everywhere, I mean he’s 6-6, 290-plus now, I can put him anywhere we need a blow, really,” “Depending on the matchups or depending on the game week, wherever we have injuries, Sean can play all over the place.”
The final depth chart decision falls on Neal Brown, but still, this depth challenge is a good one for Jackson. Instead of establishing a set-in-stone pecking order, he is focusing on building as many usable combinations as possible before Sept. 1.
“Whether it’s Dante and JJ and Asani [Redwood], or Jalen [Thornton], Sean and whoever,” Jackson said. “Being able to mix them in at different times so it doesn’t have to be this line, this line and this line, but all of them playing together would be a beautiful thing.”