Mequon, Wis. – Football season is back and Concordia Wisconsin has begun its preseason training camp. They say defense wins championships and that saying will be important this season for the Falcons to put checks in the win column. CUWFalcons.com takes a peek at the defensive side of the ball with some special insight from defensive coordinator Adam Walker.
The Falcons look for upperclassman to fill key roles
Concordia Wisconsin will only retain three starters from the 2016 season. However, they do have key backups who are ready to step up and take over a starting role. CUW will be without four of their top five tacklers from a season ago and the only player in that top five returning is for another year is senior safety Richie Guess (Homer Glen, Ill.).
Question: Looking at the depth chart, you have three players penciled in as the starters and a bunch of guys in backup roles from last year returning. Is it a wide open race for the starting spots or last season's backups going to slide into into a starting spot?
Defensive Coordinator Adam Walker's Answer: "It's day two of practice and those coming back are starters, at this moment. Once we get to day four of practice, who knows, things could be different. All of the positions are wide open. I would say that Richie (Guess) is going to keep his job and (Logan) Arredondo and my backers are pretty good. The starting (defensive) line I have Matt Fischer who's coming into his own from last year. Matt made big improvements from last season to spring practice to now, and I expect him to have a big year at defensive end. We have some guys that have made improvements, such as Evan Rusch and some others that are expected to step up."
Young guys in big positions are important for CUW
The 2016 campaign had its bright spots for CUW on defense. The Falcons generated 24 turnovers in 10 games (10 fumble recoveries and 14 interceptions). They are going to have look for new playmakers on the defensive side, as 14 of those 24 turnovers were produced by player no longer on the roster. The defense may look a bit different, but the mentality to get stops and create turnovers are the same this season.
Q: Is the defense going to be calling any different plays or schemes with players in there that might not be comfortable because of their youth?
A: "That's a discussion we are still working on. I think we have some talented players coming in to replace those we lost on the defensive line, but at the same time you don't want to over work them or overload them with scheme stuff. We are going to be more basic and allow them to fly around a little bit and utilize their abilities, as opposed to being more difficult with matchups."
Leadership from experienced players is needed if the defense wants to gel early
CUW will return 10 players with meaningful playing time from last year. The position in the most need of leadership is the secondary. Starting corners Chip McKay and Malcolm Bowers, along with starting safety Bryan Thomas, have all departed Concordia Wisconsin leaving those positions open for competition and uncertainty to start the upcoming season.
Q: How do you replace the leadership in the secondary with only one returning starter?
A: "You don't. We are fortunate to have two returning safety's, one in Richie Guess and one in John Rauh, who are really smart players and understand the scheme, and what we are trying to do. What I'll need from them is to be a little bit more vocal, by helping the other young secondary players around them. Right now we have Jacob Mason, our kicker at starting corner, and he is a really good athlete and is going to special, but he is still playing the position for the first time. From there we have a bunch of freshmen fighting for playing time and it comes down to not overloading them mentally, to where they stop playing physically and start thinking. We need them to just play and not think that much and learn the scheme and concept over the next four years."
The guidance of the upperclassmen have already been showing in camp
The Falcons have been hard at work and are being driven by the experience of the upperclassmen who know what has to be done to be successful. The defensive side of the ball will be competitive, as seven starting spots are up for grabs. The newcomers have been working hard to impress with the help of some experienced leaders.
Q: With some of these experienced players returning and having improved from last year's spring practice to now, are they going to have to teach these freshmen to catch up so that they can fill these backup roles and be ready to play?
A: "Without a doubt. They have to and they have already. We have given all the freshmen mentors and its position group wise, so the upperclassmen have taken in the younger guys and are answering all their questions they have away from us and practice. They have group chats, where they are working on different things and it's going to be a process. My thing is to make mistakes at full speed, so if I can get them to do that then they will learn that way. We have some good young talent and we have to find ways to fit them into certain spots and utilize their skill sets accordingly."