Lesley feels WVU's defense can be as deep as it's ever been

Mar. 26—MORGANTOWN — Thanks to transfers and returners, WVU defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley believes the Mountaineers' defense in 2024 will be as deep as it's ever been. WVU brought in seven transfers on the defensive side of the ball this season to supplement a strong group of returners from 2023.

In the secondary, the team added transfers T.J. Crandall (Colorado State), Ayden Garnes (Duquesne), Garnett Hollis (Northwestern) and Jaheem Joseph (Northwestern). They join returning starters Aubrey Burks and Anthony Wilson.

"Corner was a spot of emphasis for us and speed and playing the ball in the air were the top two things for us, " Lesley said. "I think we've gotten faster with the additions."

Lesley also said he expects second-year players Josiah and Jordan Jackson and Aden Tagaloa-Nelson to be ready to contribute this season.

"The Jackson twins need to be good players for us. Aden Nelson needs to be a good player for us, " Lesley said. "Those are guys that need to help us and if they do, the talent is there and it'll be the deepest we've been at those positions."

At linebacker, the players returning are more important than who's been brought in.

Josiah Trotter, who missed all of 2023 with an injury, is fully healthy this spring, as is Trey Lathan, who started five games in place of Trotter before being sidelined by his own injury. There's also Ben Cutter, who started the final eight games of the season as a true freshman.

"With getting Trotter back and Trey back, it's the deepest we've been at linebacker the whole time, " Lesley said.

Trotter, Lathan and Cutter are all entering just their second or third years and so the team brought in Ohio State transfer Reid Carrico for some experience.

"Reid Carrico is a guy that I've been really, really impressed with, " Lesley said. "Not only how he works, but he really understands the position of linebacker.

"He is much-needed help there and has done a good job."

On the defensive line is where the team lost the most from last year with starters Mike Lockhart and Jared Bartlett, role players Tomiwa Durojaiye and underclassman James Heard all transferring away.

The team returns defensive line starters Sean Martin and Edward Vesterinen as well as rotation pieces Fatorma Mulbah, Asani Redwood and Hammon Russell. WVU also added Troy transfer T.J. Jackson.

"(The defensive line) is something we have continued to build ; it's really where we started in 2019, " said Lesley, who started his WVU tenure as defensive line coach. "That is something, over the last three years, (assistant coach) A.J. (Jackson) has taken and done a nice job. There are some young pieces in there that I think can help us early."

Lesley said the team feels strongly that redshirt freshman Corey McIntyre will enter the mix as a contributor this season.

"That's a guy that has shown a lot of promise, " Lesley said. "If he develops in his second year and does what we think he can do, he's a guy that can really, really help us up front."

At pass rusher, WVU returns Tyrin Bradley and added FCS transfer Ty French from Gardner-Webb. French registered 34.5 sacks over four seasons with the Bulldogs.

"Ty French's production at FCS speaks for itself, " Lesley said. "Number one, he has a motor, and number two, he's got some jets off the edge, which is something that we needed."

Depth on defense has been an issue for the Mountaineers the last two seasons, particularly in the secondary in 2022 and at linebacker last year. During both seasons, young players were pressed into action and went through growing pains early on.

"I think the pieces are there, " Lesley said for this season's team. "If you're counting on true freshmen, that's not really fair to them and you shouldn't have to do it. It's always those second or third-year guys."

TWEET @DomPostSports