MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia’s defense has taken some hits this offseason.

Multiple starters have entered the transfer portal, including Josh Chandler-Semedo and Nicktroy Fortune.

Despite the key departures, defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley said earlier this month, “I love this group.”

He added that he feels the defense is experienced in key areas.

Looking at the first and second levels of the defense, the Mountaineers have nine upperclassmen, five of which play on the defensive line. That includes Dante Stills, who returns for his sixth season of college football, and junior Akheem Mesidor.

Lesley also had this to say earlier this month when meeting with the media ahead of spring football getting underway.

“I love the pieces that are there,” said Lesley “I think we’re faster than we have been since I’ve been here. I think we’re more athletic than we have been since we’ve been here. Probably, particularly, secondary wise.”

Lesley added that, from what he’s seen so far this offseason, he has a lot of aggressive players.

That can certainly help in in-game situations where Lesley goes with an aggressive play call. It also gives Mountaineer players the ability to “erase a mistake” as Lesley put it.

“As a whole group, in really the last two years, I don’t know as a whole that we’ve had — we’ve had some pieces — but I think this group as a whole can be able to do that,” said the Mountaineer defensive coordinator.

Lesley spoke to the media more than one week before Fortune entered the portal. Though, it was already known at that point that there will be new names being called on to make plays throughout the secondary this season.

One player whose name won’t be called is fellow cornerback Daryl Porter Jr., who entered the transfer portal in February.

Lesley, however, feels that this group gives him and the coaching staff more options and flexibility when it comes to filing out the depth chart, as well as moving players around on game day. The versatility the coaches are seeing has them excited for this group.

Lesley did acknowledge, though, that the current group of players in the secondary is inexperienced.

Among the 15 players listed as either a corner, safety or defensive back, 10 are underclassmen. Six of those players are true or redshirt freshmen. Meanwhile, there are just three seniors and two juniors in the mix.

The linebacker group also lost a lot of experience, and tackles, with the departure of Chandler-Semedo. WVU’s leading tackler from 2021 announced he was entering the transfer portal in late February.

While it’s another name on the depth chart for the coaching staff to figure out how to replace, Lesley said that it didn’t change much based on the way he sees it.

“I approached 2022 just like I did at the end of 2021,” said Lesley. “At the end of the day, the portal is part of life. So we can all sit around and complain about it, or just deal with it as it goes. Again, I go back to the first question I got – I love this team. I love this group. They’re doing a great job.”

Lesley said he will continue to focus on the competitiveness of the defense throughout the spring. He added that he wants to see how players react in situations when the outcome is a loss, or at least not an outright win.

That allows he and the coaches to gauge how players will react to situations in the fall.

But there’s a long way to go before kicking off the season against Pittsburgh on Sept. 1.

Here are Lesley’s thoughts on two individual players:

Redshirt Jr. linebacker Lee Kpogba: “He’s just one of those guys. He’s ultra competitive. I think I saw him talking trash to a tire the other day as he was flipping it. So, he didn’t have to have a competition from a human. He’s got that type of mentality that you want at the position. He just kind of has his natural leadership abilities. He’s not afraid to, even though he’s new to the roster, he’s not afraid to show that. … Just how he approaches his training, his offseason, the game, is something that we’ve needed.”

Redshirt Soph. defensive lineman Sean Martin: “[The spring is] extremely important for him. You know, it’s his second spring, which is usually when you see a developmental guy, which Sean was and a lot of guys are, really start to make strides at their position. … Yeah, it’s huge for him. He’s done really well up to this point.”