Thunder rookie Driscoll leads the sack attack

By John Bassetti

The college safety has found indoor sacks harder to produce.

YOUNGSTOWN — Through five games, linebacker Kellen Driscoll has been champing at the bit to get to quarterbacks.

In the Mahoning Valley Thunder’s first Monday night game in franchise history, against division-leading Wilkes Barre/Scranton at the Chevrolet Centre, the af2 rookie would love to wreak havoc against the Pioneers.

He said sacks are hard to come by indoors.

“It can be kind of misleading because the quarterback gets rid of the ball in one step,” Driscoll said. “If he’s taking longer, say a five-step drop, you can try to get by the fullback and make a sack.”

If reaching the quarterback isn’t feasible, Driscoll just tries to hit the fullback to collapse the pocket at much as possible.

“It depends how quick the quarterback gets rid of the ball that determines what kind of move I’m going to make,” he said. “With quick releases, a defender is going to get only a couple shots a game to make a big play, so you hope you do so when your opportunity comes.”

Driscoll, who’s been with the Thunder since training camp, played at St. Ambrose College in Quad Cities, Ill.

After playing safety in college, the 6-foot-4, 260-pound native of Minnesota, has started all five games as Mack linebacker.

“Basically, it’s pass rushing through either the ‘A’ gap and filling it for the run,” he said of plugging holes by blitzing to stop the run on either side of the center. “If I’m not blitzing, I’ll try to sit in the box and maybe deflect a pass or try to knock it down.”

Driscoll positions himself about 2 yards off the line of scrimmage, right behind the nose guard.

He also plays a bit of offense, as a receiver, with one particular personnel grouping.

Kellen, named after NFL Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow Sr., is also a long-snapper.

“My dad played, so I’m from a football family. But my mom used to hear him [Winslow Sr.’s name on TV] scoring touchdowns. So that’s how the name inspired them,” he said of the former San Diego Chargers tight end and father of Cleveland Browns receiver Kellen Winslow Jr.

After graduating from St. Ambrose a year ago, he had workouts with the Chicago Rush and practiced with the Arena League team the last week of the season last summer.

“They didn’t keep me around, so I went to more workouts in the fall, then to Grand Rapids,” said Driscoll, who had a tryout with the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Rampage of the AFL, but was released.

In attempting to pinpoint Mahoning Valley’s slump, Driscoll acknowledged the current injury situation with receivers, but also thinks a return to basics is needed.

“When you lose, you’ve got to look in the mirror first. We’ve got to get back to fundamentals. Sometimes, you lose focus mentally,” Driscoll said. “We’ve got to give ourselves a chance to win and not beat ourselves: don’t miss tackles, don’t drop balls and run the right plays.”

Special teams aren’t exempt from blame, either.

Against Albany, the offense was scoring and the defense was playing well, but the Thunder gave up a long kickoff return.

Against Wilkes-Barre the first time, Driscoll said he played well, but he admits the Thunder will have its hands full again.

“They’re good, but beatable, like anybody in this league. We played a tight game with them last time, but we have a lot of things to clean up. I know the character of our team is that a bunch of guys are going to come ready to play.”

In five games, Driscoll said he hasn’t missed a defensive play, plus he plays every special team. Defensively, that’s about 45 plays a game and another 10 on kickoff and kickoff returns and another three or four on offense.

Those numbers don’t translate into more difficult duty, but there is a factor that does.

“In the outdoor game, there are a lot of sustained drives [by the offense]. Indoors, a four-play drive is a long drive — one mistake by one guy on defense amplifies the consequences. Outdoors, if you blow a play, the penalty is a first down. Indoors, the penalty is a touchdown.”

In indoor ball, the middle safety and Jack linebacker usually get most of the tackles; the Mack linebacker is expected to rush the quarterback.

“I’m not satisfied,” Kellen said. “I haven’t had any sacks the last couple games.”

Driscoll is hoping that a 6:30 start Monday may help the Thunder.

“It’s a half-hour earlier [than usual kickoff time]. People could come right after work and enjoy Cinco de Mayo.

And Driscoll will try for cinco sacks.

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