Defense Improving Steadily This Spring
Troy Reffett Sees Positives, Increased Depth, Competition
DENTON – Offense has been a focal point of the early portion of the Seth Littrell era in Denton, but success on the defensive side of the ball is paramount to the continued growth of the program.
As spring practice comes to a close, there’s no doubt North Texas is looking to improve on its 35 points per game allowed in 2017, and early returns this spring are encouraging.
Out from last season’s starting unit are five players, including one of the program’s all-time leading tacklers, Kishawn McClain. Despite these losses of key personnel, the Mean Green are feeling positive about the defense’s progress.
“I think that we’ve made improvements in the fundamentals of running the defense, understanding the defense, the execution of it, as well as the speed of executing it,” defensive coordinator Troy Reffett said. “I see improvement in that area, we look more comfortable now running it than at any time last year.”
Entering the second full year in Reffett’s system, the unit has benefitted mightily from continuity within its staff. Last spring, the Mean Green replaced two defensive coaches the week that spring practice started. The learning curve was steep for both the players and new coaches, and the acclimation process took some time.
Coaches have noticed the level of understanding for the players is much better this spring. Less time was needed to break old habits or convey basic fundamental principles, allowing more time to be spent on execution and executing at a quicker pace.
Another positive Reffett has noticed is several players are standing out this spring at different times. That balance bodes well for a unit looking to improve across the board in 2018.
“I feel good about a lot of guys and throughout the course of the spring practices, you could ask me every day, and it would probably be somebody different who is standing out,” Reffett said. “I think there are points in time where everybody that has gotten reps on defense has had a day. That’s the thing, you don’t want one guy showing up every single day because that means a lot of guys aren’t doing their job. That’s what we’re looking for, is to be consistently good every day and have the opportunity at times to be great.”
Areas of focus have been improving the technique up front, controlling the gaps, improving pass rushing skills from the linebackers, and continuing to work on understanding coverages and technique for the secondary.
“We are increasing our football IQ this spring,” Reffett said. “From the front and linebackers, it was just the fundamentals and the techniques to play aggressive and fast. The more you understand the scheme, the faster you can play.”
Several new faces will arrive this fall, a handful of which were highly regarded players in high school. Reffett welcomes the increased competition and depth he will have at his disposal. Having a two-deep, especially in the secondary, stocked with players who Reffett feels can step in and contribute is the product of stronger and more effective recruiting efforts.
“I think that you’d like to continue to get in the best talent that you can because when you go out there for practice every day, you have to compete to either earn or keep your job,” Reffett said. “That’s what makes you better. If you go out there and you’re complacent and you don’t feel like anyone can take your job, you’re never going to be as good as you need to be, and I think there’s been some of that here in the past because of a lack of depth. I think now, even this spring, we’re better because there’s more competition.”