Defense builds confidence

Bryan Cole / Collegian File Photo
After difficult 2008 campaign, ’Dogs’ defense is ready to right the ship in ’09

The Bulldog defense may not be developing a swagger, but they have gotten the best out of the offense at spring football practice.

All 11 defenders can be seen chasing down ball carriers, pressuring the quarterback, and creating turnovers when lining up against the offense.

The man behind changing the culture of the defense is new coordinator Randy Stewart.

“The development of the defense has been outstanding,” Stewart said. “We’ve improved our ability against the run. We’ve dramatically improved in playing team defense. We’re on track as long as we can be consistent and keep improving, improving and improving.”

Stewart spent his last seven seasons coaching the defensive backs under the late Dan Brown. He was promoted to defensive coordinator in the spring of 2009 as part of a major reshuffling of the coaching staff.

Stewart has been able to get some of his defenders to take on a more versatile role with the new defense.

“We got a couple guys at each position (moving around),” Stewart said. “The inside defensive linemen has gotten flipped with both tackles. We got an edge guy in the front that’s got to move inside. We got a linebacker that plays outside a little bit that has to kick inside. From a depth standpoint, we’re pretty steady and solid in the secondary. We’re flipping some guys and we’re getting a lot of work from a lot of the guys.”

Stewart has been most impressed with the players believing in each other and playing with a sense of togetherness.

“I think they’re starting to gradually build more and more confidence in themselves and more importantly, confidence in the guy next to them,” Stewart said. “We haven’t had a lot of situations where it comes down to one guy making the play, and that means you’re playing good team defense.”

Logan Harrell has been one defender who has stood out against the offense by anchoring the defensive line.

“We’ve definitely progressed since last season,” Harrell said. “You can see it.”

Harrell credits his defensive line coach Will Plemons for being instrumental in the development of the four-man front.

“Coach Plemons is doing a great job with all of us,” Harrell said. “He does a good job working with all of us; we’ve learned a lot from him.”

Harrell didn’t just receive tutelage from Plemons, he also learned from former starters Jon Monga and Ikenna Ike.

“I learned a lot from them when I first got here in the summer,” Harrell said. “Starting from there, they showed me the ropes all the way up to when Monga got injured at Toledo and I had to go in. That’s when it really kicked in, starting to do everything that the seniors were teaching me. It’s been very helpful now during spring ball.”

If Harrell isn’t learning from Ike and Monga, he has his father Robert and his godfather, NFL Hall of Fame lineman Jack Youngblood, teaching him the game.

Robert Harrell played for the University of Florida from 1969-1972 and was an All-Southeastern Conference freshman selection.

“My whole life, I’ve been growing up around football,” Harrell said. “Just hearing stories from both Jack and my dad, they always tell me that football has really changed since back then. But they tell me a lot, especially about the mentality you have to have with the game. Having a good mental status is a huge part of the game, especially when you are getting tired in games.”

Plemons has been content with the play of Harrell and the rest of the defense, but feels it’s still a work in progress.

“I’ve been pleased with them,” Plemons said. “It’s not there yet, but it’s moving forward. Defensively, we’re believing in the scheme, we’re playing really hard, and we’re rallying to the football faster.”

Plemons, however, had to address the seven-letter word beginning with the letter “S”, especially since the defense is seen chest bumping and celebrating after every defensive stop.

“I don’t think we’ve earned a swagger yet,” Plemons said. “We haven’t done anything yet; I think swagger will be here next year.”

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