DENTON — The offense shined in the first scrimmage of fall camp, scoring touchdowns on 16 of the 32 drives that included regular scrimmage periods, as well as red zone, tight red zone and two-minute drill periods.
But as the Mean Green began their second week of practice on the practice fields Monday, the defense bounced back with one of their better days of practice, and overall, there’s reason for optimism on that side of the ball.
“We have installed everything,” defensive coordinator Chris Cosh
said. “Now, we have to go back and refine it. The details have to get better. The pursuit effort is much better than it was in the spring. Our lanes and pursuits have to be more detailed in that. Continuing to improve our fundamentals and tackling, coupled with cleaning up our footwork and stuff like that, will make the big picture look a lot better as time goes on.”
Another reason for optimism is the influx of new talent on defense, which has led to more depth and competition, as well as more speed and athleticism. Nowhere is that clearer than the defensive front, where there’s Jarrian Roberts
, Jareid Combs
and Chad Polk
rotating at one end and Andy Flusche
, Malik Dilonga
and Tillman Johnson
rotating at the other end.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a starter as much as it’s first in, second in and third in, and we also have the ability to play more ends on third-and-long situations,” defensive line coach Kevin Patrick
said. “It’s going to enable us to do a lot more things with those guys.”
Combs is just one part of a talented junior college signing class that also includes James Gray
, who’s running with the first team at one safety spot, and Cortney Finney
, who’s battling fellow junior Fred Scott
for one of the outside linebacker spots.
“When you bring in a young man at any position from junior college, the clock is running fast,” head coach Dan McCarney
said. “It’s a shorter career. You don’t want to make mistakes. Fortunately, we made a lot of really good decision. We made a couple of mistakes but not a long list. Most of those guys have come in and impacted our program.”
“The main thing is, when coaches see you, they’re coming to get you to play,” said Finney, the 2014 SWJCFC 2014 Defensive Player of the Year. “They’re asking if you can come in here and play right away. That’s what most coaches talked to me about.”
Defensively, coaches have mentioned limiting big plays and forcing turnovers as two areas of emphasis on defense. Another is red-zone defense, where the Mean Green ranked 108th in red-zone scoring defense, giving up scores on 31 of 35 defensive red-zone opportunities, and 127th in red-zone touchdown scoring defense, giving up touchdowns on 26 of 35 defensive red-zone opportunities.
“Can you make a play on the ball, can you force a fumble, can you recover a fumble, can you block a kick?” McCarney said. “All of those things are really important. That’s what good defensive players do. They don’t just go out there and play hard. Who will make a play when the game is on the line? Who will make a play when he gets an opportunity?
“We don’t need guys out there knocking eight or nine balls in the secondary. Go intercept the ball. Go get back to where we were two years ago, when we were plus-11 (in turnover margin). You have a chance to have a hell of a season when you’re taking care of the ball on offense and going after it on defense.”
That playmaking ability has already shown itself in some of the newcomers, such as Combs, Finney and Gray.
“They have talent,” Cosh said. “They’re learning the system and they’re learning the details at the same time. As time goes on, you will see them getting better and better. Right now, it’s evident that they have some talent and they can help us.”