WVU has depth at linebacker this season

MORGANTOWN-Ironically, on the day on which West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen received a verbal commitment from Freeport Senior High School (Freeport, Pa.) middle linebacker Logan Thomas to be part of the Mountaineers’ Class of 2014 recruiting class, first-year defensive coordinator Tony Gibson took the time to talk about the depth his unit will have at those positions.

“I think last year-what did we finish with-six or seven linebackers?” said Gibson. “Right now, we brought 18 to camp. Our numbers are really good right now at linebacker. And, really, defensively everywhere.

“I feel really good about it. We’ve got a lot of depth right now. We’ve got guys who are going to hopefully step up and up their game.”

And, with an opening season contest against perennial national championship contender Alabama looming just weeks ahead, depth on defense, especially at linebacker, could be the one thing that keeps the game from turning into the expected rout and give the old gold and blue a chance at pulling off yet another major upset to begin a season.

“It’s wonderful,” junior Sam linebacker Isaiah Bruce said. “As of right now, we have 18 linebackers on the depth chart. I’ve never seen that while I’ve been here. It really helps us stay healthy.

“Any one of the linebackers can play; we know the material very well. We have enough depth that we don’t need to be switched around.”

A problem Bruce experienced on more than one occasion during WVU’s 4-8 campaign of a year ago.

“I feel like I can play any position as long as I get a lot of reps at it, and I get a lot of practice with it,” continued Bruce. “Sometimes, I played Sam, sometimes I played Will last year, and that’s fine.

“It was a hassle, because I had to learn so many positions in the same game, but I did it. As of right now, as far as I know, I’m at Sam for good.”

A move that fans hope will result in the 232-pounder being able to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and, at the same time, take some of the pressure off a secondary that surrendered a Big 12 worst 263.3 yards per game.

Joining Bruce on the depth chart at Sam linebacker is junior Edward Muldrow and freshmen Isaac McDonald and Alex Brooks. Bridgeport native Wes Tonkery, who missed the spring with an injury is also listed on the spring depth chart at the spot, but opened camp fighting for playing time at the Mike position.

“I enjoy playing Mike,” said Tonkery. “It’s a little different than Sam, but I like it. I think I have some work to do, but I’m on my way. This is my third year playing inside, and I feel like I’ve made the adjustment.

“I still have work to do, and I still have tendencies of playing safety, but I think I’ll be all right.”

The Mike position also will have the most experience among the linebackers as junior starter Nick Kwiatkoski, the team’s leading tackler in 2013, returns as well as seniors Jewone Snow, Tanner Grose and Jared Barber and adds freshman Al-Rasheed Benton to the mix.

On the outside starters K.J. Dillon (junior) and Brandon Golson (senior) return at the Spur and Will spots, respectively. Backing Dillon up on the depth chart is Marvin Grose, Malik Greaves and Dayton Wilson while Sean Walters, Shaq Petteway, Hodari Christian and Justin Arndt are the next in line to replace Golson.

“It’s just a great feeling knowing that we have so many guys who can step in and get the job done,” said Bruce. “It means that we can go out and play hard on every down and that there are people behind us that can get the job done when we need a break.”