Winning in the trenches is one of the most vital aspects to winning a football game. As a former defensive lineman himself, WVU defensive coordinator Vic Koenning recognizes this and has made the line one of the focal points of his defense.
“Our d-line has got to be a force,” he said. “We do a lot of things to try to give them edges and angles….but our D-line has got to stop the run and they’ve got to be great in pass.”
While it may not be one of the first things that comes to mind in the trenches, Koenning has made athleticism one of the most important aspects of his scheme. According to his players, they are tasked with relying mostly on their physical talents to make plays to move around using stunts, rather than simply puncturing gaps.
“We move around a lot. It’s just a fun defense to play in,” said Jeffrey Pooler, a junior defensive end.
While the line is getting more freedom, they don’t necessarily have total autonomy over what they do on the field. Finding that balance between making plays and working your assignment is crucial.
“If you don’t do your assignment on the field, then the other 10 guys on the field, you’re kind of messing them over as well,” said defensive tackle Darius Stills. “So you’ve got to play hard and also do your assignment, and the plays will come to you eventually.”
Stills may be one of the biggest benefactors of Koenning’s scheme, with Pooler saying that he may be one of the best-moving linemen in that position group.
D-line coach Jordan Lesley has also brought a new flair to the defensive line. On top of helping with technique, Stills says that Lesley has helped the defensive line “turn loose,” allowing them to use their physicality to get stops.
“[Coach Lesley] emphasizes a lot on hands and ball get-off, and he’s turned us loose this year,” Stills said. “Like the other coaching staff, d-line couldn’t really turn loose, but he’s got us moving around every play. You know, he’s actually letting us show our athletic ability every play, and I like that as well. It’s fun.”
The ultimate key to success in the trenches will be depth. Koenning says that it’s a collective effort, and it won’t work if they can’t rotate.
“It’s got to be ‘us,’ it’s got to be a ‘we’ deal, and if we have D-linemen playing more than 40 snaps a game, we’re probably not doing what we need to do,” Koenning said. “We’re trying to develop the depth where we won’t have to do that.”