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Spring superlatives: West Virginia

Let's finish up our spring superlatives series with West Virginia -- not because the Mountaineers are last in the Big East alphabetically but because they're the last to start spring practice, on Wednesday.

Again, we're looking at positions as they stand for this spring only.

Strongest position: Defensive end

Key returnees: Julian Miller, Bruce Irvin

Key departures: Scooter Berry

The skinny: West Virginia will have a hard time finding someone to replace Chris Neild in the middle of its defensive line, but the two outside spots are in very good hands. Miller is an underrated performer nationally and could be in line for stardom in 2011. All Irvin did was lead the Big East and finish second nationally in sacks as a third-down specialist. Technically, Miller will move to tackle this spring, but in the Mountaineers' three-man front, he'll still have opportunities to get to the quarterback. There should be decent depth with Will Clarke and J.B. Lageman, among others. Honorable mention: offensive line, which returns four starters but must improve in a new system, and receiver, which has playmakers like Tavon Austin and Brad Starks but needs more depth.

Weakest position: Linebacker

Key returnees: Najee Goode

Key departures: J.T. Thomas, Anthony Leonard, Pat Lazear

The skinny: Goode, a senior, is the only returning starter from a year ago, and injuries forced him into a larger role than many expected. He'll either stay at the strongside spot or move to the weak side. The Mountaineers hope junior-college transfer Josh Francis can step in right away and be a big contributor. They will also look to sophomores Doug Rigg and Branko Busick, senior Casey Vance and others to step up. But it's not easy to replace three seniors who were as valuable as the guys West Virginia lost. (Dis)honorable mention: The secondary, which loses three key players in Brandon Hogan, Robert Sands and Sidney Glover but still returns Keith Tandy and Terence Garvin.