March 21, 2013
Bearcat football spring preview: Defense
After imposing their force on much of the MIAA and being the second stingiest defense in NCAA-II, coaches feel the defensive play can still improve in 2013. Northwest held opponents to just 13.8 points per game, ranking No. 2 in the nation, while also leading Division II with 28 interceptions.
The Bearcat defense held opponents to 10 points or less seven times in 2012 including an impressive shutout of Harding in the first round of the NCAA-II Playoffs. Although defensive coordinator Rich Wright feels comfortable at both linebacker and cornerback, he will use the spring to judge if the next crop of contributors is ready at safety and the defensive line.
Although individuals on the defensive side of the ball did not post eye-popping numbers, as a whole the defense flexed its muscles when it needed to. Can the 2013 version of the Bearcat defense duplicate their numbers from 2012?
The anchor of the defensive line continues to be Matt Longacre. The senior-to-be led Northwest with seven sacks in 2012 and will enter the fall just 3.5 sacks shy of cracking the all-time top 10 list at Northwest.
The interior line will be without Travis Chappelear who fought off several double teams last year and continues to pursue dreams of playing on Sundays. Looking to replace Chappelear are senior Zach Williams and sophomore Brandon Yost. They both enter the mix as possible starters after seeing significant playing time last season.
A trio of red-shirt freshman will not only get their first taste of spring football, but push Williams and Yost for a starting spot on the interior line positions. Tristan Patterson, Trey Randle and Cass Weitl all added weight and muscle mass during the fall and will join Kolten Cline in the interior line, as Cline moves down from defensive end.
At the defensive end positions, Ricky Bailey and Kevin Arnold will bookend the Bearcat defensive line. Arnold and Bailey both appeared in 12 games last season and showed improvement down the stretch and into the playoffs. Montay Simmons, who saw action in 10 games last season, will push both Bailey and Arnold for playing time. Meanwhile Jordan Chrisman looks to add depth on the end as well.
Although Northwest will be forced to replace All-America Collin DeBuysere, coaches feel good about the return of DJ Gnader and Eric Reimer. Gnader has been a two-year starter and after leading the Bearcats in tackles last season with 96, the junior to be continues to show no signs a hip injury three seasons ago.
Wright will look to replace his rover position which was held by DeBuysere possibly with Gnader. Among the trio that could see playing time at linebacker include Cody Matthewson, Zach Maloley and Jayron Robinson – who all played a role on special teams last year for the Bearcats.
Former Bearcat linebacker and current linebackers’ coach Chad Bostwick will also work through a mix of underclassmen to help fill the remaining spots. Chet Meneely and Brock Sherman both saw action at linebacker and on special teams last season, while red-shirt freshmen Jacob Vollstedt and Casey Sudhoff will add depth and help push the linebacker corps.
While the most production from last season returns in the secondary from the Bearcat cornerbacks, some questions still arise from the nation’s interception leaders at safety. The cornerback position returns a lot of experience with All-America Brandon Dixon and twin-brother Brian both returning after solid seasons. Tyshaan Alleyne also played an important role at corner and will add even more depth on the edge.
Replacing All-America safety Nate DeJong will prove the toughest challenge for Wright, as the senior team captain provided more than his team leading seven interceptions in ways of leadership on and off the field. Fellow safety Clarke Snodgrass, who battled an early season injury, will also need to be replaced after a successful senior campaign.
Stepping up to the task will be Travis Manning, who was the fifth leading tackler for the Bearcats and finished with four interceptions. After seeing action last season at both safety and special teams, Jared Fox looks to make his impact with a solid spring as well.
Wright looks to continue to interchange his secondary and add to the excitement of an, believe it or not, improved defense. The return of 2011 MIAA Freshman of the Year Bryce Enyard will help with depth and competition as Alex Taylor, Dylan Chadwick and Jack Young all figure to push the veteran group and help add depth to the secondary.
After Thursday’s practice the Bearcats take a week off for spring break before returning to the field April 2. Northwest will conclude spring practice April 20 with the Annual Green and White Spring Game which is set for a 5 p.m. kickoff.
SPRING PRACTICE SCHEDULEMarch 21 – Practice, 4 p.m.
April 2 – Practice, 4 p.m.
April 3 – Practice, 4 p.m.
April 5 – Practice, 4 p.m.
April 8 – Practice, 4 p.m.
April 9 – Practice, 4 p.m.
April 11 – Practice, 4 p.m.
April 12 – Practice, 4 p.m.
April 15 – Practice, 4 p.m.
April 16 – Practice, 4 p.m.
April 18 – Practice, 4 p.m.
April 20 – Scrimmage, 5 p.m.
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Media Relations Department, Northwest Athletics
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Lamkin Activity Center | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468