After the first scrimmage we thought we would share some defensive thoughts with everyone. There is not nearly as much to talk about on the defensive side as the scheme is the same as it has been for the last 20 years – the 3-4. They appear to be doing the same things as far as alignment, blitzes, etc. The starters did not play a whole lot in the scrimmage due to injuries, need, etc. Specifically, players like Ross Brenneman, Dan Hendrickson, Broc Bellmore, Devin Benjamin, etc. did not play very much at all. The backups got a lot of reps which will help those young guys along because they are going to be counted on for a fair amount of reps in each game. There were also 2 true freshman corners running with the #1 defense. So while the offense looked great and executed, we need to realize and take everything into account. As the coaches cliche’ goes for both sides of the ball – it’s never as good or bad as it seems.
We have addressed the defensive line in our previous posts but will update you anyway. The Killer B’s (Brenneman, Bellmore, Benjamin) are going to anchor the defense and will be relied upon greatly this season. Devin Benjamin will be playing the true Nose position and hopefully can be the two-gap player that they need. Broc Bellmore and Ross Brenneman will be the d-ends and based on their experience should be set for breakout years. We are looking for Brenneman especially to have a huge year based on his size and abillity. Jay Nelson will be the main backup after having a good solid year last year. He will be relied up heavily to give those first three a breather. After that there is alot of uncertainty. Ben Henson has looked good in fall camp and will be in the mix, as will Spencer Cummings. The problem is they are both freshman and are going to have to take their lumps. Seth Stanchik is still recovering from last season’s leg fracture and has not been a part of the rotation. Ekenna Anya-Gafu will also play some but is a freshman and therefore will only play limited reps. This position is thin on experienced depth. Any injuries to the top 4 and there could be problems.
This group has had a steady camp from what we are hearing. Senior Johnnie Daniels and sophomore Damon Andrews appear to be the starters with Dom Bennett possibly starting after his two game suspension is over. Daniels is a seasoned veteran who appears to be the rock at this position. Andrews has the size to make some plays and the experience from last season. We look for him to make a big jump this season. Sophomore Cordero Finley will play extensively also. He has very good size and athletic ability and looks the part of the typical Sioux OLB. He is another guy that we look to have a breakout season. Freshman Derrick Dulaney and Myles Jablonsky will be backups at each position and both should play full-time on special teams. There is a nice mix of veterans and rookies at this position. We are looking for a better pass rush from the OLB position this year as it seemed they got picked up way too much last season. Those guys got to be able to beat the tackle off the edge on blitzing packages.
Seniors Dan Hendrickson and Mitch Goertz appear to be the starters, as suspected. They are both solid with Hendrickson being an All-GWC performer a year ago. We are putting Hendrickson on a huge season – he should be ALL-GWC at a minimum. His speed and intensity is something the Sioux haven’t had at the ILB position in a long time. Goertz gained some valuable experience last season and had a surprisingly solid year. Being a senior should be help him along even more this season and we are expecting big things out of Goertz.
Sophomore Garrison Goodman will be pushing Goertz and will see alot of playing time this season. He is very similar to Goertz in size and ability and has solidified his spot as the backup. We think Freshman Ben Peters will also be a backup and see playing time. He is a bigger, run stopping linebacker. Brian Otto will also factor in at times and on special teams.
There appears to be five main players at the safety positions. Seniors Dom Hawkins, Mitch Kudrna and Justin Bellotti, junior Erik Mersereau and freshman Baylee Carr seem to be the guys in the mix. We think Hawkins will be a starter and Mersereau and Belotti will fight for the other spot, possibly even rotating. Hawkins is looking good after making the switch from corner, where he was a 3 year starter. He should have a big season with his size and speed being able to roam around the entire field now, not just one half. Bellotti is the big hitter in the group and a definite leader back there. Mersereau is one of the fastest players on the team and should rotate in consistently. He also adds the ability to return punts. Kudrna is a guy who has gained a bunch of experience playing cornerback through the years and should be a solid backup. Freshman Baylee Carr has been working with the main units and should see some limited playing time. Not much has changed at this position and hopefully it will be a strength of the defense with all of the experience they have returning.
The corner position is anchored by sophomore Chavon Mackey and senior Kenny Watkins. Mackey is suspended for the first two games so we think sophomore Chris Hall and freshman Daryl Brown will be the two to join Watkins at the corner position. Watkins has been an inconsistent player through the years but all indications are that he has really made big strides and grown up a lot over the spring and fall camps. We are hoping he makes a big jump this season now that he is a senior. He is going to be counted on to solidify one of the corner positions. Brown has looked good in fall camp and is as good as advertised. He has all the tools to be a good one but lets remember he is only a freshman. There have been a few nagging injuries at this position but hopefully they will all be ready for Sept. 1st. The two freshman corners signed this summer, Chris Brown and Dwayne Brown, have logged a lot more plays than a typical freshman would based on need. We still think they will redshirt, unless there are multiple injuries.
This defensive unit has some great 1st string talent at certain spots. The depth and experience will be the key factor throughout the season. If and when the injuries come, a lot of inexperienced young guys will be thrown into the fire immediately and will have to respond. Defensive coordinator Mike Mannausau needs to be able to put more pressure on the QB this year to create more turnovers, which means more blitzing and means more man-to-man coverage in the secondary. Coach Boyd and Coach Kelling will have their hands full covering up everyone when the blitzes do come. We think the secondary is more than capable this year of doing that with the experience and addition of youth to the rotation. As we all know, a secondary is only as good as its front 7’s pass rush. Give a QB enough time, and they will find an open receiver.