MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The departure of Dante Stills should bring the WVU defensive line down to par level in theory, but things are looking up for the position group as a whole.
If last week was a test, the defensive line finished at the top of the class.
“As we increased their workload, they got better,” head coach Neal Brown said. “It’s helpful because they’re going against a really good offensive line every single day, and so they either get better or it’s going to be a long afternoon or a long morning for them.”
Last week, the coaches upped the practice intensity by running more full-speed, full-contact team drills in practice than normal with an emphasis on physicality. Players also started classes on Wednesday, and the “most difficult” week of fall camp ended in another Saturday night scrimmage.
The defense as a whole created three takeaways, and at least one of them was forced by the defensive line when they forced a sack-fumble.
Defensive end Sean Martin – who recorded the most sacks of any WVU returning defender – is in the final stages of rehabbing an injury before he practices full-go this week, so he did not participate in the scrimmage. Defensive tackle Eddie Vesterinen and Mike Lockhart received praise from coaches earlier this summer, but a pair of younger players caught the eye of their head coach on Saturday.
“[McIntyre’s] got talent,” Brown said. “I think he’ll be able to help us at some point this year.”
Russell IV’s WVU experience is largely limited to his 15 snaps against LIU in 2021, but he finds himself as the second-string nose tackle behind Lockhart on the preseason depth chart. It is likely he will receive meaningful snaps this fall as a rotational defensive lineman.
The unit as a whole allowed 149.6 rushing yards per game in 2023, which was sixth in the Big 12. Stills’ departure to the NFL is the biggest loss, but Brown is hopeful that Andrew Jackson’s group will be able to rebound because of its depth.
“They’ve gotten better,” Brown said. “They’ve approached each day with a growth mindset, and I’m appreciative of how they’ve pushed themselves and how they’re handling themselves.