Spring was key in development of young defensive linemen
West Virginia defensive line coach AJ Jackson has a unique mix of players at his position.
There are of course the experienced veterans such as Dante Stills, Taijh Alston and Jordan Jefferson, but a number of intriguing young players, too.
And this spring was significant for the development of several of those on the roster.
Hammond Russell redshirted last season although he did make things interesting by making a late push to possibly see the field. While the coaches ultimately preserved a year, there’s a lot of reasons to be excited for what he could become at this level. At 6-foot-3, 292-pounds, Russell worked primarily at the nose guard position this spring and made some waves with his skill set.
“He has some natural strength to him. He’s growing and learning to play that nose guard position,” Jackson said. “He’s a tough kid, very physical so he looks really good.”
Another that Jackson considered a pleasant surprise with his play was Cincinnati transfer Zeiqui Lawton. The in-state native arrived in Morgantown in January after spending the fall with the Bearcats and has impressed with his quickness and knowledge of the game.
Lawton still needs to get bigger in order to play the snaps required at this level, but this is his first off-season cycle as well after just enrolling at Cincinnati last summer before his transfer.
“He’s giving us a nice little spark plug,” Jackson said.
The final player that has made some significant strides is redshirt sophomore Sean Martin. He has by far the most experience of the group playing 275 snaps across 13 games last season but has elevated his level of play. The coaches wanted to see Martin fill out his body and play with strength, he’s done both.
While the Bluefield native will be a rotational piece this season, the potential is there for him to be an every down guy in the future give how much he has evolved.
“He can pay every package. He can line up on the edge and play, play some three-technique,” Jackson said. “He’s been more than a pleasant surprise; he’s grown into what we all thought he was going to be.”
Overall, Jackson has a room 11 scholarship bodies and will grow by one more this summer. Having that sort of depth even with the departure of defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor to the transfer portal is going to allow the coaches to utilize some different fronts and packages.
That means both a three-man and four-man front as well as possibly having bigger packages for teams that run the football effectively or speed packages to get after the quarterback.
“We’re going to adjust the defense to the strengths we have,” he said.
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