Andre Neblett disagrees that last season was some sort of success.
Sure, the football team finished 5-7 — which is as many wins as the previous two years combined.
Sure, Neblett, a senior defensive tackle, posted 36 tackles, two forced fumbles and a sack en route to his second straight Second Team All Mid-American Conference selection.
The thing that still haunts the defense’s leader up-front is the wins that were left on the field against teams like Buffalo, Connecticut and Navy.
“Last season, people would call it a good season. I would call it a nightmare,” he said. “Last year, we had a lot of close games that we lost by that much.”
As April 18 nears, the annual Cherry & White Game at Edberg-Olson Hall will conclude spring practice. Neblett returns to anchor a defensive line that is hoping to attack the quarterback and give opposing offenses nightmares.
Joining Neblett as the other leader of the unit will be senior defensive end Brian Sanford.
“We’re happy with the way our practice is going,” Sanford said. “I feel everyone on the [defensive] line is going real hard, and we’re learning a lot.”
It was a learning experience last season for Sanford, who, in his first season as a full-time starter, recorded 31 tackles with three sacks.
While Sanford was the new man on the line last season, the unit has a new man in charge.
The Owls hired Randy Melvin as their defensive line coach last month. He will replace Jared Backus, who coached the defensive line the previous two seasons. Backus will take over the linebackers, replacing Curtis Bray, who left for Iowa State.
Melvin spent the past four seasons in Cleveland as the defensive line coach for the Browns. He has coached collegiately with Illinois, Rutgers, Purdue, Wyoming and Eastern Illinois. Melvin also was the defensive line coach for two years with the New England Patriots and was part of their Super Bowl run in 2001.
“I think he’s a guy we needed as far as the [defensive] line goes,” Neblett said. “He’s going to come to work every day, make sure we’re working and push us every day to get better.”
And with that motivation comes what Melvin brings to the table with his long career in coaching.
“He had the opportunity to coach in the NFL,” Neblett said. “Just his experience, he’s teaching us a lot of things we didn’t know.”
Melvin is excited with Neblett’s work ethic so far this spring and knows he wants to leave Temple a winner.
“He wants to play well and leave this place with a good taste in his mouth,” Melvin said. “Through this spring, he’s showing that he wants to be a better player.”
Neblett is a Preseason First-Team All-MAC selection by four sources and a candidate for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Rotary Lombardi Award.
Along with getting praised, Neblett dished some out to his fellow defensive leader.
“He’s a big, physical guy,” Neblett said of Sanford. “He’s always bringing energy in the weight room, on the field, off the field. Just energy 24/7.”
As a matter of fact, the same can be said for the rest of the defensive line.
“It’s a hardworking group,” Melvin said. “They have some experience, and a lot of guys have played, so I think there’s a good foundation here.”
Starting alongside Neblett and Sanford will be junior defensive tackle Elisha Joseph and sophomore defensive end Adrian Robinson. Joseph started three games last season and finished with 20 tackles. Robinson also started three games and had 20 tackles along with a sack.
“What we’re working on is trying to be a little more disruptive,” Melvin said. “Getting off the football, getting off the blocks and trying to make plays.”
Physicality is a word that was mentioned often by the defensive line, as Neblett and Sanford spoke about what they are hoping to improve on. The defense allowed 165.9 yards on the ground and recorded just 18 sacks last season.
“We would say sacks,” Neblett said. “We’re on the D-Line, and that’s what we do. So, sacks, and we definitely want to improve on the rushing game. A lot of teams think they can run on us and do whatever they want on us.”
The biggest question mark on the defensive line is the status of senior defensive end Junior Galette. Galette, who played just eight games last season but recorded eight sacks, will not practice this spring due to injury.
Galette was suspended indefinitely after the game against Navy last November due to an undisclosed incident. Al Golden later decided to give him a second chance after the 2008 season ended.
“He won’t be behind,” fourth-year coach Golden said at the beginning of spring practice. “He’s a senior. He’s been through it all.”
Melvin agrees and is excited to get Galette back on the field.
“What I’ve seen on film I really like,” he said. “Once we get him practicing, there are some things we can help him get better at.”
As minicamp and the season opener against Villanova inch closer, Neblett and Sanford know this is their best shot, along with their last.
“Three years already, going into a fourth year,” Neblett said. “We know the coaches, we know what they want, and we know the routine. [We’re] very confident and know what we have to do this year.”
Pete Dorchak can be reached at email@example.com.