MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – In 2000, the New York Jets traded star wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two first round picks.

The Jets and the Bucs met later that fall. Before their game, Johnson was asked about his replacement in New York, Wayne Chrebet, who was Johnson’s teammate for years before the trade. In so many words, Johnson called himself a superstar, and Chrebet was a mere flashlight.

Later that week, Johnson hauled in just one catch while Chrebet delivered a game-winning touchdown for the Jets.

WVU defensive line coach Andrew Jackson was a kid when the Johnson-Chrebet saga made front pages. It comes to the front of his mind when he’s evaluating his defensive linemen at WVU as a 34-year-old coach.

“I think we have about 9-10 flashlights that will turn into [superstars],” he said.

Most of the star power on the defensive line departed following the 2022 season. Dante Stills, WVU’s sack leader (4.5 sacks) in 2022, officially made the jump to the NFL this offseason, and starters Jordan Jefferson (LSU) and Taijh Alston (Colorado) both exited via the transfer portal. Jackson is looking for multiple players to fill each of those roles this fall.

“With the combination of losing three starters, I think the competition is there for guys that want to take over the role,” Jackson said. “So they’re all making each other better by competing against each other.”

Out of WVU’s 26 sacks last season, 13 are attributed to Mountaineers returning in 2023. Only six of those came from returning defensive linemen.

Defensive end Sean Martin led the returning crop of players with four sacks last season, though Eddie Vesterinen and Taurus Simmons are the only other returning defensive linemen with a sack for WVU in 2022.

“We don’t have the Dante Stills eraser, but we have a bunch of good players,” Jackson said. “A bunch of guys that run around and do their thing. [The] splash plays might not be there, but we’ll make all the routine plays we’re supposed to make.”

With Martin practicing in a limited capacity this fall, Vesterinen and defensive tackle Mike Lockhart are receiving plenty of praise during training camp. Vesterinen, Martin and defensive end Davoan Hawkins can all play multiple positions across the defensive line, so Jackson will have little trouble getting his best three players on the field at any time, whoever they may be.

“I’ve got my lines,” he said. “We’ll be running in-and-out, baby.”

Until then, anywhere from nine-to-11 players could rotate in-and-out during the first few weeks of the season, or longer. Jackson will also mix-and-match the lines – with some inspiration from USA Hockey legend Herb Brooks – in efforts to find the best combinations. As a result, game reps will become that much more valuable.

So if you’re tracking defensive line substitutions in the stadium or at home, make sure to have a pencil handy.

“When they’re in there for three-to-five plays, they’ve got to be playing with pad level,” head coach Neal Brown said. “They’ve got to be striking with their hands. That group is getting better. I’m pleased with their development.”