WVU hopes it's not stuck in the middle
Sunday, August 14, 2011

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. Talk about big shoes to fill.

Of seven starters that West Virginia needs to replace on defense, finding a filler for Chris Neild at nose tackle perhaps is the most pressing.

That's according to defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich, who said it's "critical" to have a solid nose tackle in the Mountaineers' 3-3-5 stack defense. He needs a player who commands a double team every play and clogs running lanes.

"Our deal here defensively has hinged on: Do we have a good nose or don't we?" Kirelawich said. "If you're going to play an odd front like we do, which in different ways, shapes or forms we've always played, it requires a guy who could line up and be a good nose guard."

Neild, 6-foot-2 and 319 pounds, served in that capacity for three years, posting 35 tackles and three sacks in 2010. The Washington Redskins drafted him in the seventh round in April.

West Virginia appeared to have Neild's heir in redshirt junior Jorge Wright, a transplanted defensive end who last season played 12 games, started one and finished with 10 tackles. Wright ended spring practice as the first-team nose tackle but was arrested in April on misdemeanor marijuana and gun possession charges and was suspended indefinitely.

He is practicing and is expected to play this season, but West Virginia has not made him available to reporters.

"I think Jorge can do it. Is he going to be another Chris Neild? Not yet he's not," Kirelawich said. "I want to see (him) get better every day."

Fifth-year senior Josh Taylor and junior college transfer Shaq Rowell provide depth at the position, and all three could see playing time.

"If a guy's good enough to play, he's good enough to get in the rotation," Kirelawich said. "I'll play the guys that are game ready."

Part of the job of the nose tackle, which Taylor called the "anchor of the defense," is allowing other players to make plays, including the defensive ends. Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller project as the starting ends; they combined for 23 sacks last season.

If Wright and the other nose tackles can occupy the middle, Irvin and Miller could have even more success this season.

"They have to tie up everything in the middle," Irvin said. "The nose guard has to get double-teamed. That frees me and the other end up."