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WVU looks to retool defense

by Greg Talkington

SPORTS WRITER

West Virginia University football coach Don Nehlen and his revamped coaching staff have begun major preparations for his 21st season at the helm with the beginning of spring football drills earlier this week.

Nehlen is looking to retool a defense depleted of several talented players while also looking to replace record-setting quarterback Marc Bulger, tight end Anthony Becht and wide receiver Jerry Porter.

The emphasis early, however, is turning the tide on a defense that has slumped steadily since the 1996 season.

"The last two years we've played terrible defensively," Nehlen said. "Especially last year -- that was unacceptable. We did very little right. If we're going to have any kind of team we're going to have to improve tremendously on defense.

"Offensively, we weren't great but we were scoring 25 or 30 points a game."

Defensive players were greeted this week with numerous position changes.

Antwon Lake has moved from end to tackle; Mark Thurston has moved from linebacker to end; James Davis has switched from strong safety to weak side linebacker and Chris Edmonds has switched from strong side linebacker to rush linebacker.

Nehlen also lost three veteran assistants this past off-season, who were offensive coordinator Dan Simrell, wide receiver's coach Doc Holliday and defensive backs coach Tony Pierce.

New assistants include just-hired defensive backs coach Dave Lockwood, running backs coach Darrell Hazell and wide receivers coach Frank Kurth.

Long-time assistant and former WVU center Bill Legg has assumed the duties of offensive coordinator to go along with his offensive line duties.

With a bevy of offensive linemen returning and All-Big East running back Avon Cobourne, the development of quarterback Brad Lewis appears vital in just how good WVU's offense will be.

Lewis was effective as a starter and reserve when Bulger was injured last season.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior-to-be started three games and played in five more. He completed 67-of-112 passes for 726 yards and eight TDs and three interceptions.

Despite missing the Maryland game, Cobourne shattered Amos Zereoue's freshman rushing record by gaining 1,139 yards on 224 carries. He scored 10 touchdowns while averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

The surprise return of wide receiver Khori Ivy should bolster the passing game. He could break several school receiving records with a big year. He has 113 catches for 1,606 yards and 12 TDs in his career.

All Big-East punter Mark Fazzolari returns, while former Bridgeport standout Zach Anglin will get first crack and Jay Taylor's vacated place kicking slot.

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