WVU is looking for more depth at linebacker

| Thursday, July 14, 2011

When West Virginia linebacker Doug Rigg received a text message from a teammate about fellow linebacker Branko Busick, Rigg had one thought.

"No way," he said. "No way, this happened."

Players expressed shocked that Busick, a redshirt sophomore from Steubenville, Ohio, was arrested Monday night and charged with armed robbery after being accused of repeatedly striking a man with a gun. Coaches dismissed Busick from the team Tuesday.

Busick's former teammates said he was a great guy to hang around and could have been something special on the field.

"He was real cool with us in the locker room, and it was a real sad blow," Rigg said. "Plus, it does help destroy our depth because we don't have many people (at linebacker) with that experience. He was a guy going into his third year.

"Losing Branko is a big loss, but we're going to have to move on and see who can fill in his spot."

Even though Busick played in only two games last season, he provided depth at a position filled with inexperienced players. Linebacker remains one of the West Virginia's biggest question marks heading into the season.

Middle linebacker Najee Goode is the lone returning starter, but there's little proven depth behind him. With Busick gone, Goode is backed up by fifth-year senior Steve Paskorz, a Hampton graduate who transferred from Notre Dame and sat out last season, and redshirt freshman Jewone Snow.

There's even more questions about who will occupy the two outside linebacker spots. Rigg is the projected starter at strong-side linebacker. He played in all 13 games last season but in a limited capacity. Behind Rigg are redshirt sophomore Tyler Anderson and redshirt junior Donovan Miles. Neither has seen extended action.

Weak-side linebacker has the most uncertainty. Josh Francis, a speedy junior college transfer, and redshirt senior Casey Vance, who has played in 12 career games and made eight tackles, will compete for playing time.

"I'm a lot more agile, first-step quicker than Casey," Francis said, "but Casey's very smart, a very smart player. We kind of balance each other out."

Still, the uncertainty of whom will play next to Goode could bring the best out of the young players.

"That's something that's really going to get some people in gear, knowing they have a chance to play," Rigg said.

Note: Senior offensive guard Josh Jenkins, who injured his left knee during the spring game in April, had surgery last week and is out for the season, the university announced. Jenkins sprained his medial collateral ligament and medial patellar retinaculum in the Gold-Blue game. He had been rehabbing in hopes of avoiding surgery, but the university said doctors felt an operation was necessary. Jenkins, who started 11 games last season, will be in a leg brace for six weeks and won't be fully healed and strong enough to play football for six months. He is entitled to a medical hardship this season and could return for the 2012 season, the university said.

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