Just like last season, almost all of the hype surrounding the West Virginia football program this season is directed toward the offense.
It's hard not to get excited about a group that capped its first season in a new system with a 70-point bowl game, especially considering that most of those players return, and will not be trying to learn a new system this time around.
Yet, on the other side of the ball, the Mountaineers lack that wealth of experience and, with the departure of defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, the familiarity of schemes. Now, co-defensive coordinator, Joe DeForest, is working to impress his new 3-4 scheme upon his young players and get them ready for the upcoming season.
"They're all so young," DeForest said. "We sat in there as a staff and realized how young our defense is, and it's amazing that they're all freshmen or redshirt freshmen or sophomores, and they have a lot to learn."
The problem is, it's not necessarily the new coaching staff or new system that is giving the defense trouble at this point in the season. Instead, it's tackling.
"We miss way too many tackles," DeForest continued. "We're going against some really skilled players, but I'll tell you one thing, as a defense as a whole, we're not a good tackling football team right now and that's something we need to work on."
The coaching staff would have had its work cut out for itself even if it wasn't trying to install a new defense. Not only do the Mountaineers lose a number of leaders from last season's team, but those losses come at each position.
On the defensive line, Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller depart, each of which will try their hands at the NFL. At linebacker, Najee Goode, the team's leading tackler, is gone. In the secondary, Keith Tandy has moved on.
The defense is littered with young, and consequently, inexperience players. That's not to say that this spring has been absolutely terrible for them, though. In fact, according to DeForest, they've done a good job with their assignments and knowing where they need to be. It's just that shaky tackling.
"They're in the right place for the most part," said DeForest, "but they've got to execute their tackle technique better, and understand leverage, and understand the sideline, and understand that their teammate is on the other side, and not over-extend."
Admittedly, part of the problem is due to the side of the ball that has most people talking. This West Virginia offense is full of explosive players that have given other defenses fits. That's the offense that the young defense has to deal with every day in practice, and there's no question that's having an effect on the team's tackling.
One player in particular is making things difficult for the defense. Tavon Austin may be one of the toughest players to tackle in the entire country, so bringing him down would be a challenge for just about any defense.
"I wouldn't want to tackle him," DeForest said. "I mean, he makes people miss going backwards. I've never seen a guy like him. I'm glad he's on our team."
But in the Big XII, there will be other athletes that will be tough to bring down. The West Virginia defense has to improve upon its tackling between now and then.
The good news is that it's the middle of April. There is still another week of practices this spring, and then summer workouts and fall camp.
Between replacing players that have graduated, installing the 3-4 scheme, and going up against Geno Smith and the rest of the offense, a lot is being asked of the West Virginia defense this spring.
There have been some positives thus far, but improved tackling is vital for DeForest and his defense moving forward.