Penguins on the defensive

Lack of experience among defenders is a concern

By Joe Scalzo


Trivia time.

Q. How many YSU defensive players are left from the Jon Heacock era?

A. Three. Defensive tackles D.J. Moss and Kyle Sirl and linebacker Dom Rich.

Q. How many of them are seniors?

A. None.

Q. OK, well, how many career starts do those three players have — combined?

A. Four. Rich started the last three in 2010, while Moss started one game in 2010.

Q. So you’re saying YSU’s defense doesn’t have a single defensive player who’s been here longer than two seasons, and the three defenders who have been here the longest didn’t start a single game last season?

A. Correct.

Q. Um, isn’t that a problem for a team with national championship aspirations, particularly one with a new defensive coordinator?

A. Well, maybe “concern” is a better word than “problem.”

Following YSU’s first spring scrimmage on Saturday, defensive coordinator Joe Tresey was asked if he’s ever coached a team with so few holdovers.

“Probably not,” he said. “But you know what? You don’t think about it. You’ve got who you’ve got and you’ve got to coach them up.

“We’ve got to get them better every day. When you think about things like that [the lack of experience], then your mind’s not in the right place.”

YSU’s offense dominated the first half of Saturday’s scrimmage, which wasn’t a surprise considering the Penguins are returning every starter — and every coach — from arguably the best offense in the FCS last season. But the Penguin defense played better in the second half of the scrimmage, which encouraged Tresey.

“Obviously, we’ve got a long way to go but we did some good things,” Tresey said. “We need to become more physical, need to learn to play with our bodies, do a better job of getting off blocks and, of course, our open-field tackling [was poor] at times.

“It’s a whole new defense, a whole new install. There’s going to be more thinking involved than you want. We’ll become more comfortable as we play with each other and learn the defense.”

YSU returns four regular starters from last year’s defense — senior DT Aronde Stanton, senior FS Jeremey Edwards and sophomore LBs Travis Williams and Teven Williams — and all but Edwards played with the first team on Saturday.

Junior college transfers Chris Charles (FS), Twin Fernandes (SS) and Julius Childs (CB) and sophomore CB Devont’a Davis (five starts last season) made up the first team defensive backfield Saturday. Rich took the third linebacker spot and senior DE Josh Fenderson, senior DT Nick DeKraker and redshirt freshman DE Trevor Strickland joining Stanton on the line.

Of those 11 starters, just three came to the program out of high school, which shows how much the roster has turned over in two years. But unlike the past two years, they won’t need to rely on August newcomers to fill key spots.

Still, if the Penguins are serious about making a run at the national championship, the defense will need to do more than just keep YSU in games. Saturday was the first step in a long process.

“They’re grasping it and they’re working hard,” YSU coach Eric Wolford said of his defensive players. “One thing with Coach Tresey, he’s going to hold them accountable to give an effort and work hard.

“We’re close.”

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