San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

August 27th, 2008
Defense the key for Texas State football

By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large

Fred Bleil knew his new job in San Marcos would place him in charge of a poor defense. But he didn’t want to know how poor, and, apparently, Texas State head football coach Brad Wright didn’t want him to know how poor, either.

So, on taking the defensive coordinator position at Texas State early this year, Bleil declined to watch any Texas State game film from last year’s 4-7 output that featured notoriously loose tackling.

“I wanted every kid to come into the new year with a clean slate,” Bleil said. “After a couple months into it, Coach Wright asked me to look at a couple games, but he wanted it to be games where they played better. I asked him to pick the games.”

Before looking at the games, Bleil could go on an ugly set of statistics from 2007. The Bobcats ranked 112th out of 116 Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) teams in total defense, allowing 460 yards per game. The Bobcats also ranked 112th against the pass (269.73) and 83rd against the run (190.3).

“Anyone sitting up there could see that we needed to improve our defense,” Wright said.

The Bobcats hope to present an improved defense Saturday at Bobcat Stadium when they start the 2008 season against Angelo State with a 6 p.m. kickoff. The keys, Bleil said, are toughness and tackling, which, in their odd way, are unrelated.

Bleil said the emergence of spread offenses with a less physical style is less than an ideal circumstance for the defenses on those teams. Because those teams obviously don’t want their offensive players taking injuries during practice, it means the defensive players can’t go full-out hitting people.

Thus, it becomes imperative, Bleil said, to teach the barest fundamental techniques of tackling in every practice scenario, no matter how little contact the situation allows.

“The challenge now is to be able to teach tackling on no-pad days, on half-pad days and on full-pad days,” Bleil said. “We’ll practice the techniques on no-pad days and kids will say, ‘I’d rather be hitting somebody.'”

As the minutia of technique doesn’t always simulate physical toughness, the Texas State coaches found other ways to do it. One wrinkle Wright introduced during the offseason program this year was an obstacle course at the end of the week once the lifting was done.

“They took us back to the basics,” said senior defensive end Donavan King. “They instilled discipline and lifting on the whistle. They were tough. I think they wanted to see if anyone would quit, but no one did.”

The basic thrust of the defense, King said, will be for the line to close off vertical lanes through the middle for opposing offenses, thereby forcing opponents outside so the Texas State linebackers and defensive backs can make plays. By accounts, the front four, with King and Travis Houston on the ends and Ray Parker and Wellington Deshield at the tackles, is the strongest part of Texas State’s defensive unit.

Parker started eight games last year at tackle, Deshield started three at tackle and King started one at end. Houston started the first four games last year at middle linebacker.

The only returning linebacker with any starts last year is Marcus Clark, who started all 11 games and led the team with 71 tackles. Texas State listed junior Joe Bell at middle linebacker and redshirt freshman Bryan Iwuji as the strong side linebacker at the start of fall camp, but senior Courtney Smith, a three-time letter winner, has made a strong bid for the strong side during the fall.

The secondary defense is a special concern for the Bobcats, who gave up 21 touchdowns last year without even making the opposition reach the red zone first. Opponents scored 10 touchdowns of 40 yards or more, another five of 30 yards or more and six more from 20 yards or more.

Texas State responded this year with an infusion of athletes to the secondary, moving three-year starting wide receiver Morris Crosby to cornerback, moving running back Jamal Williams to safety and bringing in transfer Drenard Williams from Iowa State to play cornerback.

Drenard Williams figures to start at corner, along with Will Thompson, who started seven games at corner a year ago. Jamal Williams and former San Marcos Rattler T.P. Miller were fighting for free safety, while Michael Rutledge returns to strong safety

Bleil will try to make a defense out of this group after coaching the linebackers at Tulane last season. But he’s been coaching for more than 30 years and he knows much more than the basics.

“We’ll be better,” Bleil said. “We have to stop the score, play rushing defense and create turnovers.”

For a defense that sometimes played as if its goals were to miss tackles and give up long touchdowns, that could lead to a whole different look.

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