This is a time of change for the football team. The Owls unveiled new jerseys and helmets earlier this summer. They begin their inaugural Mid-American Conference season Friday. They also have changed their defense.
The Owls switched to a 4-3 defensive scheme after utilizing a 3-4 system last season. The extra defensive lineman
might help place extra pressure on opposing offenses, something coach Al Golden felt was lacking last season.
“We have to put pressure on the quarterback without blitzing all of the time,” Golden said. “Quite frankly, that was something we didn’t do very well last year.”
Preseason All-MAC selection Brian Sanford and Leyon Azubuike will start at defensive end, with freshmen Morris Blueford and Elisha Joseph fulfilling
backup duties. At defensive tackle, Terrance Banks and Andre Neblett are slated to start. Terrance Knighton and Chris Tremel provide depth off the bench. Banks, Neblett and Knighton each have starting experience.
Though the Owls opted to make the defensive switch, Azubuike said he feels either defense fits the strength of the team.
“We have the personnel to run either defense,” he said. “We have a lot of linebackers that can run, but the in terior guys will be able to get pressure. We have a deep rotation and I feel we’ll be good running either front.”
Reserve Philip Simpson said the 4-3 alignment requires linemen with a distinct quality. “We’re looking for linemen that can run,” Simpson said. “The MAC has a lot of speed in the conference and we need linemen that can run.”
Golden said the Owls’ linebackers also have a lot of speed.”We can look at the tape and we can really run,” Golden said. “We’re young at linebacker, but we’ve got some guys who can really run and strike.”
Freshman Amara Kamara, who totaled 193 tackles last season as a senior in high school, and sophomore Alex Joseph are listed atop the depth chart at outside linebacker, while junior Tommie Weatherspoon mans the middle. Simpson said the linebackers have asked the defensive line for one thing repeatedly throughout practice.
“The linebackers have been asking us to get bigger, get stronger so we can tie up those blockers,” he said. “When the opponent has to double-team a defensive lineman, that leaves one less blocker and lets them roam and flow to the ball.”
The team’s top returning tackler, Dominique Harris, said little has changed. Yet, more pressure from the front seven could give Harris and the defensive backs time to make plays.
“I’m confident in our defense,” Harris said. “I know they can get after the quarterback and I’m confident in them. I trust them. And they’ll most definitely bring pressure. They’re looking real good right now.”
Terrance McNeil can be reached at email@example.com.