The bandit linebacker is one of the most important positions in West Virginia’s defensive scheme.
“Defensively up front, the design of a lot of what we do kind of pushes the ball towards that guy,” co-defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley explained Tuesday. “And that is by design, no matter who it is, that’s how we try to use that guy.”
WVU’s bandit linebacker plays closer to the line of scrimmage than the Will or Mike linebackers, almost like the edge position that a lot of NFL teams have started using. This season, West Virginia has not used just one main player at bandit, instead opting for a committee approach with former Alabama transfer VanDarius Cowan, redshirt-sophomore Jared Bartlett and senior Dylan Tonkery.
Cowan has missed the last three games with a leg injury, but WVU coach Neal Brown thinks the team has still gotten good production from the position with Bartlett and Tonkery.
“VanDarius tried to practice last week, just didn’t look like he was ready to go,” Brown said. “We’ve been getting good production out of that position. We were really using it by committee anyway.”
Combined, Cowan, Bartlett and Tonkery, have 19 total tackles, eight tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. The tackle for loss and sack totals would lead the Mountaineers if done by one player. In just two games, Cowan had six tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. Bartlett has 12 tackles, 4.5 for loss and 2.5 sacks in five games this season. Tonkery has one tackle this season.
While Cowan has been out, Lesley said the key for Bartlett and Tonkery’s play has been their effort.
“Both of those guys, I think the biggest thing for them is their effort,” Lesley said. “Those two guys do exactly what you ask them to do and they do it as hard as they can. Are they Always right? No, but they play extremely hard…that’s where a lot of that production comes from.”
Bartlett especially has started catching the eye of WVU’s opponents. Lesley said when he talks to other coaches they always proclaim, ‘man that kid plays hard’.