WVU football: Biggest defensive question is at will linebacker

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia coach Neal Brown and defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley are not shying away from the fact that there are question marks at the weak-side linebacker, or will, position as the Mountaineers get fall camp underway.
Exree Loe, who mostly handled that role in recent years, is no longer in Morgantown, leaving competition for the starting role.
“I think that’s the question mark,” Brown said Wednesday after the team’s first practice of fall camp. “I don’t think that’s something we shy away from. We need to see. If you were going to ask me defensively, ‘What’s the position that you’re most intrigued by? Who’s going to step up?,’ it’s at that will linebacker spot.
“We’ve got some candidates, but a lot of them haven’t played, so over the next two and a half weeks, who’s going to show that they’re ready?”
Loe started 20 games at linebacker during his career, including nine last year. He was WVU’s fifth-leading tackler in 2022, posting 53 stops, with two tackles for loss and two pass breakups. As a redshirt junior in 2021, he played in 10 games with seven starts at will linebacker before suffering a season-ending injury. He saw 495 defensive snaps that season and finished as WVU’s sixth-leading tackler.
But with Loe’s eligibility exhausted — he signed with the Munich Ravens of the European League of Football earlier this summer — a hole needs to be filled.
Jairo Faverus and Trey Lathan are the top contenders to fill the position, according to the preseason depth chart.
“That’s what’s going to make our football team, is the guys that make a jump from a year ago,” Brown said.
Faverus, a 6-foot, 220-pound Amsterdam native, played in all 12 games last season as a redshirt freshman and enters his fourth season with the Mountaineers. His first was in the 2020 COVID-19 season that did not count against his eligibility, and he redshirted in 2021. Last fall, he added depth at linebacker but was used primarily on special teams. He finished the year with one tackle.
Lathan is a 6-foot-1, 225-pound redshirt freshman who played in four games last year as a true freshman with six assisted tackles. He was rated a four-star prospect by ESPN and a three-star by Rivals and 247Sports out of Gulliver Prep in Miami.
Lesley named Lathan as a player who hasn’t been talked about as much that has impressed during the offseason.
“I think Trey Lathan is a guy right now that is showing some big improvements,” he said. “Again, a young player who probably — you look at the Will linebacker position — probably where we need him to make an impact.”
True freshman Ben Cutter is listed behind those two on the preseason depth chart and impressed the WVU staff during the spring. The 6-foot, 224-pound Denver, North Carolina, native arrived in Morgantown as a three-star recruit after recording 193 tackles, eight tackles for loss, two sacks and four interceptions as a senior at East Lincoln High in North Carolina.
WVU could also move 6-foot-2, 223-pound redshirt junior Lance Dixon back to linebacker, where he’s had experience during his first four seasons with the Mountaineers, but the hope is to keep him at his current spear spot.
“There’s always that possibility because he’s played that position,” Lesley said. “I think, for Lance’s skill set, what we’re doing with him really is an advantage for him, advantage for us. It really plays for both sides.
“I think will linebacker — [Brown] has been open about it and I’ve been open about it — it’s the question mark, but we’ve got some pieces in there that we’re putting them under some pretty tough evaluation over the next 20, 22 days, whatever it is, to figure out who our guy is there, what our rotation is going to be there, and we’ll know that probably sooner than that, but we don’t know it now and that is something that’s a really, really tough competition right now. But we’ve got some guys that we like.”
WVU’s staff has said last season didn’t live up to its standard defensively, and the Mountaineers have put an emphasis on getting back to the basics this offseason.
WVU finished ninth of the 10 Big 12 teams in scoring defense last year with 32.9 points allowed per game. The Mountaineers were sixth in the Big 12 in total defense, allowing 412.3 yards on average.

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