The first and only jersey scrimmage of the spring is today at 3:30 p.m.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
A lot more will be known about the prospects for the 2005 football season after today's Youngstown State jersey scrimmage at 3:30 p.m. at Stambaugh Stadium.
The Penguins have had two straight losing seasons under head coach Jon Heacock, now in his fifth season and the final year of his current contract.
The Penguins were 8-3 and 7-4 in Heacock's first two years as head coach, but fell to 5-7 in 2003 and 4-7 last season bringing his four-year record to 24-21.
The 2005 season is an important one to the YSU coaching staff, because another losing campaign could find them all looking for other jobs.
The fact that the Penguins have not been to the NCAA I-AA playoffs in any of the last four years has also been a sore subject with Penguin fans. Attendance has also suffered.
A winning season is a must for the Penguins and from everything shown thus far this spring, the potential is definitely there.
Defense is still questionable
Offensively the Penguins should be as good as just about anyone in the Gateway Conference, but the big question mark lies in the defense.
Heacock and his staff have improved the defense over the winter with the addition of three new transfers and a recruiting class that weighed heavily on defense.
The winter conditioning program has helped make the Penguins bigger and stronger, but is it enough?
The defensive front line was too small a year ago and the results proved that. The speed and quickness of last year's defense wasn't enough to make up for its lack of size.
While the Penguins will be bigger up front this season and the linebackers all seemed to have improved over the winter, the secondary is still questionable.
Secondary lacks experience
Junior Jason Perry is the only real veteran back and at 5-8, 160 pounds he's not going to scare anybody with his size.
Sophomore Bob Perez (6-0, 208) and senior Chris Goffer (6-0, 189) give some size to the secondary, but not a whole lot of experience.
Senior Aaron Scales (6-2, 203) and junior Justin Reams (5-11, 195) will both be counted on to help.
The Penguins lost some size at linebacker when sophomore James Terry, who played last season at 235, came back to training after an illness at 200 pounds.
Terry's stomach problems
Terry, the hard hitting linebacker who transferred here last year from Virginia, has a stomach disorder that's still bothering him.
"I couldn't eat anything, it was like having heart burn all the time," Terry said.
Terry has his weight back up to 215 and hopes to be back around 230 to 235 by the time fall practice rolls around.
Terry, junior Marty Hutchinson (6-4, 210), junior Jeremiah Wright (5-10, 213), senior Mike Andrews (6-1, 234), sophomore Jeff Koval (6-1, 220) and sophomore transfer Maurice Smith-Davis (6-1, 245) will be counted on to see most of the action this year.
Hutchinson (Newton Falls), Koval (Fitch) and Smith-Davis (Howland) are all area standouts. Smith-Davis transferred here this year from Michigan State.
D-line should be improved
The defensive front, which took most of the blame last season for the lack of a pass rush and not able to stop the run, should be improved.
Senior Brandon Brown (6-1, 257) returns at one end while senior Justin Scholes (6-1, 235) returns at the other.
In between the Penguins have a host of possibilities to fill the gaps. Sophomore Blake Halverson (6-3, 252), senior Jamel Lee (6-3, 296), sophomore Jose Galloza (6-2, 260), sophomore Ben Suran (6-2, 290) and the two newcomers, sophomore Greg Jacobs (6-3, 266) and freshman Mychal Savage (6-2, 290), all will see playing time.
Jacobs is the transfer from Vanderbilt, while Savage was at a military prep school and enrolled at YSU last winter.
Second season for system
The other factor in YSU's favor is the fact that this will be the second season under new defensive coordinators Mike Kolakowski and Dana Chambers.
The Penguins were just starting to adapt to the new system last year before injuries decimated the unit. This season the group is more familiar with things.
Also Heacock himself indicated that he would devote most of his time this spring with the defense, a place where he feels right at home.