MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — On Saturday, we featured West Virginia’s offensive line in our roster review series.
Now, we go over to the defensive side of the football.
WVU’s defense was one of the best in the nation at stopping opposing teams in the red zone last season. A big reason for that success was the strength of the defensive line.
Here’s a closer look at West Virginia’s defensive linemen for the upcoming season:
Dante Stills – fifth-year senior
The Fairmont native enters his final season as part of the Mountaineer defense.
As Stills gets set to play Pittsburgh for the first time in his career, the Backyard Brawl will start what could be a season that re-writes portions of the WVU football record book.
Stills is just five tackles for loss shy of tying the all-time WVU mark (49) that was set by Julian Miller. He already owns the program record for the number of yards his tackles for loss have accounted for.
Seven sacks would tie Stills with his father Gary for the second-most sacks (26) in program history. He can also tie Pat White on the all-time games started list (39). And if he stays healthy, he will set the record for most games played by a single player in WVU football history.
Taijh Alston – redshirt fifth-year senior
An impact player that didn’t receive a lot of outside attention over the offseason.
Alston recorded 11 tackles for loss last season to go along with five sacks. Arguably his best game in a Mountaineer uniform came on the road against Oklahoma, when he collected two sacks and two tackles for loss.
Head coach Neal Brown said Alston had “an exceptional offseason” following the first practice of the spring schedule.
Staying healthy will be key for Alston, who, after being limited to just one game in 2020, received honorable mention honors for Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year in 2021.
Jordan Jefferson – redshirt junior
“He’s always been a strong sucker. I mean, that joker’s big and strong,” defensive line coach Andrew Jackson said of Jefferson earlier this spring.
Jackson also added that Jefferson has more confidence entering this season.
Jefferson played in all 13 games last year, and started six of them. According to Jackson, he held his own at the nose tackle spot against a giant Minnesota offensive line.
He finished last season with 17 total tackles, 0.5 sacks, and four tackles for loss.
Jalen Thornton – redshirt junior
According to his position coach, the Savannah, Georgia native, displayed some flashes of what is expected of him during the spring.
His head coach saw some of those flashes as well.
When Brown met with reporters on the first day of spring practice, he noted that he thought Thornton’s best performance of 2021 was the bowl game versus Minnesota. According to the head coach, he followed that up with a solid Day One of spring camp.
Thornton, like Stills, is a legacy player who has been embracing his own journey as a Mountaineer.
He appeared in all 13 games last season.
Taurus Simmons – redshirt sophomore
Brown was impressed with Simmons at times this spring, as well.
“Taurus Simmons, I thought he did a nice job today,” said the fourth-year Mountaineer head coach immediately following the Gold-Blue Spring Game.
Following the spring, Simmons is part of the second or third wave of defensive lineman, who is expected to add depth to the rotation.
Appearing in 11 games a season ago, Simmons collected six total tackles.
Sean Martin – redshirt sophomore
Bluefield native Sean Martin was one of the West Virginia natives that impressed coaches during the spring.
“He’s grown into what we all thought he was going to be,” Jackson said.
Martin, who is entering his third season of college football, is also coming off of what defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley noted was “extremely important” for him.
After appearing in all 13 games last year, Martin appears closer to taking on a bigger role with the defense.
“Sean will eventually be an every-down guy,” said Jackson. “I think you won’t notice a difference when Sean is out there with Dante or Jordan, or if giving Taijh a blow. I think he can play every package.”
Jackson also noted that Martin could see action at any spot up front, except at nose tackle.
Promising Players Adding Depth
Hammond Russell – redshirt freshman
Coming out of high school, Russell was the No. 80 defensive end in the country. He appeared in two games while redshirting last season.
“He’s got some natural strength to him,” Jackson said. “He looks really good.”
Eddie Vesterinen – sophomore
The Helsinki, Finland native, appeared in eight games for the Mountaineers in 2021. He got credit for seven total tackles, and also recorded half a sack and half a tackle for loss.
He missed some time this spring, but is part of the depth that allowed Brown and company to build from within during the offseason.
Zeiqui Lawton – redshirt freshman
Lawton, the former Cincinnati lineman, announced his decision to transfer to WVU in December.
“Zeuqui Lawton has been a pleasant surprise,” Jackson said in April. “And he’s got a tremendous knowledge of the game. He’s a true football guy.”
Lawton was one of the top prospects in the state coming out of high school as a senior at South Charleston High in 2021.
Mike Lockhart – redshirt sophomore
The experienced Mike Lockhart has also joined the team. The redshirt junior is listed at 6-foot-4, 317 pounds.
He has three years of eligibility remaining, despite having appeared in 25 games at the collegiate level.
Aric Burton and Asani Redwood – true freshmen
A pair of incoming freshmen are also worth keeping an eye on. Aric Burton was a consensus three-star edge rusher out of high school. Asani Redwood was also a three-star defensive lineman, and collected 115 tackles as a high school senior last fall.
Find more of our 2022 roster reviews here:
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