by Greg Talkington
MORGANTOWN -- Opposing offenses on West Virginia's football schedule may be in for a big surprise this season.
Despite the loss of four starters, the Mountaineers have plenty of experienced players coming back and several talented newcomers ready to step up.
But the biggest surprise may be the defensive scheme itself.
West Virginia's defense was vastly improved last season, thanks mainly to the installation of the 33-stack defense, one that featured three linemen, three linebackers, two hybrid linebackers/safeties (the spur and the bandit) and three defensive backs.
While the aggressiveness of the defense caught several opponents off guard, it was done solely from the base part of the defense.
Now, the coaching staff has added several new packages to the defense, which should once again catch opponents unawares.
"We're doing some more things scheme-wise," head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "We're in the second year of this defense and we've been able to expand it some.
"We're not going to abandon our base. But we're toying with more pressure packages, especially for first-and-second down situations."
Lack of pressure on the quarterback was the defenses biggest weakness in 2002. That was most glaring at Wisconsin, where Badger quarterbacks had plenty of time to pick apart what were sometimes seven-and-eight man secondaries.
Safety Jahmile Addae vividly remembers that game.
"That's the one game that upset me most last year," he said. "We shut down their running game, but they hit several long passes in that game that broke our backs.
"That left a sour taste in my mouth and I'm ready to play them again."
Addae said the new defensive schemes should be of big benefit.
"We've got a smart group of guys who accept coaching," Addae said. "These additions, whether they be different looks in coverages or pressure situations, will help us make plays."
Veteran linebacker Grant Wiley believes the new looks will give WVU's offense more time on the field.
"All of these new packages will help create big plays for us on defense," Wiley, a four-year starter, said. "Hopefully, we'll get a lot of three-and-outs because of the big plays."
Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel believes his players are learning at a quick enough pace.
"We're pretty much where we thought we'd be at this point," Casteel said. "By and large we're pretty happy with where we're at as far as installing what we want to do and the kids being able to grasp it."
n RICH'S RAVES: While Rodriguez hasn't been in much of a mood to heap praise on anyone or anything thus far, the third-year coach had plenty of compliments for WVU's playing surface, now in its second season of use.
"We have had our usual bumps and bruises, but we haven't had any major injuries and I think that's because we have the safest surface in America on our field in AstroPlay," Rodriguez said. "It's saved us several times and I think it's better for our players than our grass field."
When asked why he thought this, he replied, "It retains its softness when the ground outside gets hard in the October and November. It remains the same whether it's 90 (degrees) on nine. It is the best facility move we've made since I've been here."
CAMP NOTES: The Mountaineers will practice twice today. The afternoon will feature full-scale scrimmaging... Freshman wide receiver Chris Henry showed his speed and moves on a 60-yard pass and run play. He caught the pass, thrown from out of the endzone by backup quarterback Charles Hales, on the left sidelines near the 35-yard line. He then juked and sped his way past several defenders until safety James Woodruff finally hauled him down. Unfortunately for Henry, Woodruff also stripped the ball from him... Cornerback Lance Frazier suffered a slight hamstring pull.
Sports writer Greg Talkington can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org