By Brian George
I think we have a group of kids on defense who understand what we are looking for in terms of doing the things we ask, pushing each other and showing leadership. That is something we really focused on as a defense and as a team. But as a group, our guys on defense have taken some positive strides in that direction. How closely their performance will follow that is yet to be seen, but it will be interesting to see.
We definitely have a good feel for this group of kids, what they are about, the things that are their priorities, and their dedication to what they are doing. It will be exciting, and I think at this point we are all ready to see them play in a game.
As coaches, we have talked about depth and how many guys are ready to play. We have some good players up front who are ready to step up and fill some roles for us. Guys like Terence Waugh, Jon Cunningham, Jontey Byrd, and some of those guys have really stepped up their game. We could play seven or eight guys on the defensive line.
At linebacker we are a little bit short right now in terms of experience. Obviously, Matt Dellinger and Darius Redmond both have playing experience and those two will start for us. With freshmen Marques Moore and Matt Sommers, we are hopeful we can keep their role early on to special teams. Both could potentially see some limited action at linebacker. That’s obviously dependent on everyone else staying healthy. But right now we would like to introduce them to the game with special teams and a more limited role on defense, at least early in the season. We feel confident both of them have the ability to play. It’s just a matter of gaining some experience, and it’s different at this level with the preparation and some of the things we are asking them to do.
In the secondary, starting with the safeties, we feel really good about the three guys who played last year and are still pretty young when you think about it. Jordan Italiano played every game last year at star. Right now he is starting at strong safety. Elcee Refuge, who was Jordan’s backup last year and played in dime situations, is the star this year, and he has done a really good job. He is a real fit for that position. When you ask what you are looking for with that spot, Elcee fits that mold. He is like a linebacker who can cover. He is still young and he played a lot of football for us, gaining a lot of experience for us last year. And Nate Holley at free safety continues to grow and learn. He has an unbelievable work ethic. Our No. 1 guy competing for playing time at safety is Calvin Tiggle, who has fought through some injuries during spring and fall camp. He will start the year in a limited role, but as he continues to get healthy, he’ll contribute more and more.
At cornerback, we have a good mix of guys with some experience and some good young guys. Obviously Malcom Pannell has played a good amount of football. He is doing a good job. Najee Murray sat out last year as a transfer, but he is also a guy who has played college football. He is a good player and a good tackler, who is not afraid to be physical at that position. Some of the younger guys have also come along and shown us some good things as we’ve gone through camp. Demetrius Monday had a very good camp, and we expect him to see some time at corner. Kerrick Rhone, who has spotted a little bit in the past, has continued to improve. Jerrell Foster as a true freshman will probably play on special teams, initially, but he is also in the hunt at corner.
We are looking forward to seeing all of these guys in action on Saturday against Ohio University.
Ohio is a bit of an unknown with regard to personnel. Each team is shaped to its personnel to a certain degree. The coaching staff at Ohio has a philosophy of things they like to do and the things that fit within their system, but the personnel determines what you do within that system.
There are some new faces, but some of those guys who are filling roles for them have played a lot of football for them. The quarterback who is starting for them played 144 snaps last year at quarterback, so it is not as if he is completely green coming in to Saturday. It’s the same thing with their starting tailback. He has seen action in the last two seasons, so it’s not like he is a guy coming in off of the street. Both have had a role. It’s the same with their offensive line. They are replacing some guys, but all of those guys have seen some playing time. Saturday won’t be their first snaps of college football.