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Volume 70, Issue 128, Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Sports

Defense sees new scheme in trenches

Fans to see more aggressiveness in new defensive lineup

By Sam Khan Jr.
The Daily Cougar

Our four-part series on the Cougar football squad during spring practice leading up to the Red-and-White spring game on April 16 continues today. The following is part two, which looks at the defensive front seven (defensive line and linebackers).

There's a saying that you hear in football often: "Speed kills."

It seems the Cougars have taken that to heart and used it as one of the reasons to switch their defensive front from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Personnel is another reason: The Cougars lost a lot of depth on their defensive line with the exit of 2004 senior defensive ends Joe Clay, Kendrick Goss and Travis Griffith. Either way, the coaches like the switch so far.


Junior linebacker Wade Koehl and junior nose tackle Marquay Love will be looking to stir things up next falls as the Cougars will be going at their opponents with a new defensive scheme that will see more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Daily Cougar File Photo

"I've been very encouraged by it," defensive coordinator Ron Harris said. "It will make us faster in terms of team speed on the field. It has made us deeper, only having to worry about depth at only three (defensive line) spots instead of four. Plus, it has made the competition for playing time much more intense."

Love is key

Expected to man those three spots on the line are senior Kade Lane, a Third-Team All-Conference USA selection in 2004, at left end, senior Gerard Richard at right end and junior Marquay Love at nose tackle.

It is often said that the nose tackle is the key to a solid 3-4 defense, which will place a lot of responsibility on Love and the guys behind him: senior DJ Johnson and junior Ricky Barela. Early indications are that they'll handle the responsibility well.

"(Love) has definitely had a tremendous off-season and dedicated himself to working very hard," Harris said. "There's also the fact there's DJ Johnson and Ricky Barela there, and we have confidence that all three of them can do well and play. 

"But we're a different defense when (Love) is in there because he is special and has the ability to make plays and really make things happen. He commands a double team each and every time he's on the football field."

Linebacker depth takes a hit

No matter who is in among the front three, they all will be asked not only try to get to the passer but also to occupy blockers and allow the crop of linebackers to make plays.

That group received a major hit; however, senior Lance Everson went down with a knee injury during a practice last week that may require him to miss the entire 2005 season. Everson, one of the leaders of the Cougar defense, has led UH in tackles the past two seasons.

"You can't replace a Lance Everson," linebackers coach Alan Weddell said. "He had the most experience on our entire defense, and he was probably having the best spring of anybody so far. It was one of those freak things where one guy falls on another guy's leg. It's just part of the game."

UH still expects to get production from the linebackers, as freshman Cody Lubojasky is the leading candidate now to step into Everson's inside linebacker spot.

If he enters the starting lineup, he'll join sophomore Trent Allen on the inside and outside linebackers Wade Koehl and Brendan Pahulu, who are both returning starters. Without Everson, they know they'll have to pick up the slack.

"The rest of us have to step up as leaders, and I think that's something we all understand," Koehl said. "When you lose a senior leader like that, everyone has to step up their game."

Bring the heat

Minus their leader, the Cougars and their coaches are still confident they'll be able to get the job done. Again, depth at linebacker was one of the main reasons for the switch, and they understand that injuries are something they have to work around.

"We've still got some good depth at the outside and inside linebacker positions," Weddell said. "These days you can't win with just 11 guys (on defense) anymore."

While the 3-4 gives the front seven the capacity to throw different looks at offenses, guys like Koehl and Pahulu, who played important roles last season, will be called upon to get to the passer more.

"You're going to see us bring a lot of blitzes," Koehl said. "We're going to heat (opponents) up and not give them much time. We'll cover well and keep the offenses guessing."

One thing the outside linebackers have been working on is lining up in the "five" technique, in which they act as a defensive end lined up against an opposing team's offensive tackle, essentially becoming a fourth lineman. Will they be up to the challenge of taking on those big bodies?

"Oh yeah, not a problem," Koehl said. "I've had two off seasons here, so I'll be OK."

Eternal optimists

Overall, everyone seems to be pleased with the way the spring has gone: players, coaches, etc. One thing is for sure: If the Cougars don't succeed this year, it won't be because of a lack of effort.

"I feel very encouraged, very optimistic," Harris said. "(This is) by far the best of the three springs we've had defensively. Just in terms of the kids' attitude and effort, not one day have we had to coach them about effort, whether it was running to the ball or playing hard every snap."
 

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