The Pittsburgh Steelers have been a consistent playoff team in the NFL for the past 30 years. What is the secret of their success? Some argue that it is precision drafting. Others claim that it is the blue collar attitude of the city of Pittsburgh that the team models itself after. The truth is, the Steelers are always in the hunt for the Super Bowl because of their defense. And no defense in the nation is more copied and imitated than the Steelers blitzing 3-4 defense.
Most critical to the success of a 3-4 defense is the talent of the linebacking corps. A 3-4 defense uses big defensive lineman to occupy blockers and free the linebackers to penetrate the backfield, both in run support and especially in pass rushing situations. Linebackers are also responsible for slot receivers, running backs, and tight ends in pass coverage. The scheme requires linebackers to be quick, agile, and sure-handed tacklers. If you do not have exceptionally talented linebackers, your 3-4 defense will get ravaged (just ask the 2011 Buffalo Bills).
Co-defensive coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson have been hitting the recruiting trail hard to ensure that the Mountaineers have the linebacking talent necessary to compete annually for Big XII titles. As of today, the Mountaineers have verbal commitments from 5 linebacker prospect. Three of these prospects are 4-star recruits (according to ESPN.com): Darrien Howard (Dayton, OH), Hodari Christian (McKeesport, PA), and Sam Lebbie (Post-Grad from Hyattsville, MD).
To say that this kind of recruiting haul (assuming all the verbals commits sign in the spring) is important to WVU, it would be a tremendous understatement. West Virginia has only been able to lure 1-2 4-star talents a year to Morgantown. This years class is projected to include 5 4-star talents (3 linebackers plus DT De’Asian Richardson and OT Marcell Lazard).
The influx of talented linebackers will certainly give the Mountaineers defense the athletes necessary to be one of the top defenses in the Big XII, in the future. DeForest and Patterson are doing an incredible job on the recruiting trail. Hopefully they will be able to maintain the initial crop of verbal commitments and add a few more 4-star talents to the 2013 class.