While last year’s defensive captains Adrian Robinson and Tahir Whitehead are fighting to make NFL rosters, the depleted defense they left behind is trying to figure out a way to replace them.
The defense deals with the loss of six starters from last year. Across the board, the team has had to adjust, but the linebacker corps could see the biggest uphill battle, losing Whitehead, as well as Stephen Johnson, who led the team last year with 123 tackles.
“You cannot replace [Whitehead],” defensive line coach Sean Cronin said. “There are some young guys that we think have the ability at one point to be better than him. But right now we need guys to pick it up for make up for the ones we lost.”
One player who could be asked to shoulder the load on his 6 foot, 2 inch, 300-pound frame, is junior defensive tackle Levi Brown. Brown was named to multiple preseason All-Big East teams, but he, along with the rest of the defense, doesn’t want to make excuses about lost talent.
“I just know that I am working as hard as I have ever worked to play my best football,” Brown said. “We can’t focus on last year. We have to move on with the team that we have now. We are going to throw somebody in there that is going to make plays and do what he has to do.”
Junior defensive back Zamel Johnson will be asked to step up in the secondary facing the departures of Kee-ayre Griffin and Kevin Kroboth, something Johnson said he and the rest of the team constantly prepares for.
“If you are in the [No. 1] position you need to play like you are [No. 1],” Johnson said. “If you are in the [No. 2] position you need to play like you are [No. 1]. You never know when your time is going to come.”
Senior defensive back Justin Gildea, who tied for the team lead with three interceptions last season, said he has to provide leadership and stability to the defense.
“We lost a lot of good leaders last year,” Gildea said. “Trying to replace them is really hard. We are looking for guys that have been here for a while to step up and show these younger guys how it’s done and how we work.”
Lacking returning starters who were the faces of the defense, a young, largely unknown group will take the field missing their top four tacklers and top three sack leaders from a year ago.
“I have seen a lot of guys out here working hard,” senior defensive end John Youboty said. “I have seen a lot of guys that were probably hesitant out there getting more experience over time and getting stronger and more depth.”
While the defense might not have individual athletes that stand out at first, the unit has already found how they want to characterize their play.
“Toughness, that’s our motto, being Temple tough,” Gildea said. “Going and hitting people every play and every game. I want that to be our identity, coming out and smacking people.”
Coach Steve Addazio reiterated Gildea’s statement, and has established toughness as the focal point of the entire team. If they are to survive and keep up in the power conference that is the Big East, they will have to stick to their motto.
“They will know they were in a football game after they play Temple, they can count on that,” Addazio said. “I don’t know what the outcomes are going to be, but they can count on the fact that this team is going to come after them.”
Ibrahim Jacobs can be reached at Ibrahim.firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ibrahimjacobs.