It is no secret that the Mountaineer defense had a rough 2012 season, but one of the positives from last year's group was redshirt freshman linebacker Isaiah Bruce. Bruce, who ended up leading the team in tackles with 94, is expected to have an even larger role in 2013.
Although Bruce played well as a youngster, Head Coach Dana Holgorsen feels that having to play so many young players was one of the reasons the defense struggled so much. Bruce was one of 11 redshirt and true freshmen players to get snaps on defense in 2012.
"A part of why we were subpar on defense last year was so many young kids that we played," Holgorsen said. "When you play that many young kids, you ought to be better a year from now."
Bruce is taking Coach Holgorsen's word to heart and is trying to improve his game over spring practice. Even with the great first season, Bruce has a lot to get better at.
"I don't think there is a ceiling [in 2013]," Bruce said. "There's always room to get better and [the coaches] continuously say, ‘No matter what you do, it's not good enough', just so you can do a little bit better. If you get a tackle for no gain, it could have been a tackle for a loss if you played it a little better."
"[Bruce] is right, he isn't close to his ceiling," Holgorsen said. "I don't know what the ceiling is. You're going to reach it at some point in your career. He's not even close to it."
The coaches, specifically Linebackers Coach Keith Patterson, has been preaching one very important thing to Bruce, and that is patience.
"When I see the ball I tend to want to get right to it instead of being patient," Bruce said. "Instead of doing my 1/11th, I tend to do other people's jobs and it gets me out of position. So I have to work on my patience a lot better."
Doug Rigg, who is entering his senior season, is second behind Bruce at the Sam Linebacker position on the tentative depth chart released Thursday by the coaching staff. The competition will likely carry on into the summer.
"[Bruce] isn't having his best spring." Holgorsen said. "He's clearly a starter but Doug Rigg's pushing him pretty hot and heavy right now. These guys need to come in here and they don't need to be comfortable with the fact that they think that they have a starting spot because about the time you do that, you're going to get beat out by somebody.
"I'm not saying Isaiah's doing that. Isaiah's a very determined kid and a good kid, but he needs to keep progressing."
While everyone is wondering about the quarterback competition, there is some unfinished business on the other side of the ball, specially at Sam.