MORGANTOWN - It would be easy to say that a coach beginning his 35th year coaching defense would have "seen it all" during that time. But, that is not the case for WVU assistant Steve Dunlap as he opens his 26th campaign with the old gold and blue.
"It (the 3-4) is similar to what I've coached in the past," said Dunlap. "So, I feel comfortable. But, in college football, there is little common terminology.
"The terminology is new for both the coach and the players so it is a constant learning process."
A process that must be accelerated as the Mountaineers prepare to open the 2012 season against instate foe Marshall in the final Friends of Coal Bowl at 12 noon on Saturday, Sept. 1.
"There is a learning curve," continued the former Mountaineer linebacker, who still ranks No. 10 on the school's all-time tackle list with 359. "You have to fight through that as both a coach and as a player."
Not only will No. 11 West Virginia not be in its accustomed 3-3-5 stack when it takes on the Thundering Herd at Milan Puskar Stadium, but Dunlap, who returned to Morgantown in 2008 after coaching stints at N. C. State, Syracuse and Marshall, has moved from coaching safeties to working with the outside linebackers and handling the duties of the special teams coordinator.
"Well, as you know, it's an ongoing process. There's no question that the kids are still learning. And, we have done some things to help them feel a little more comfortable with what we are doing.
"What I like is the way they have bought into it. When you see kids doing what they have been coached to do then you know that you are going to be successful at some time."
And, Dunlap is used to having success. As the Mountaineers' defensive coordinator in 1996, WVU led the nation in total defense, was second in rushing defense and turnover margin, No. 4 in scoring defense and No. 5 in pass efficiency defense.
"That group was a very experienced unit," explained the Hurricane native. "People forget that they were the No. 12 defense in the country the year before.
"This group is completely different. There will be time when we will have a lot of experience on the field and then there may be times when we are going to be very young."
That, however, doesn't mean that the younger defenders can not play.
"Our No. 1s are pretty experience. But, our 2s and 3s, there are a lot of new faces out there and that is causing some interesting battles for some of the positions."
Especially, at linebacker where the Mountaineers must find a replacement for Najee Goode, who led the team with 87 tackles.
"It is an ongoing evaluating process. The thing we feel most comfortable with is that we have several players who we feel like can play the positions."
Atop that list is returning starters Jared Barber and Doug Rigg. Also back is Tyler Anderson, Josh Francis, Taige Redman and Jewone Snow.
Add to that list Chidoziem Ezemma, Troy Glouster, and Isaiah Bruce as well as Terrance Garvin, Wes Tonkery, Shaq Petteway and Nick Kwiatkoski at the new Star position and it is easy to understand why the veteran coach is comfortable with the team's depth at the line backing spots.
"The truth of the matter is, the first three games you are going to use to find out who wants to play," said Dunlap. "Once the lights come on, it doesn't take long to find out who wants to make the play.
"Because of that you can expect a lot of adjustments until we decide who those kids who want to play are."