Defensive depth looking to provide strength and grow over spring practice
The defense is looking to be a strength for the football team heading into next season after a successful 2012-13 campaign.
Head coach Dan Enos said he has some specific things he wants to see out of his defense during spring practice and leading up to the spring game on April 13.
“I want to see us play where we left off as far as playing physical and fast and playing better against the run,” Enos said. “Being more consistent with the pass rush and creating more turnovers is important. The last four or fives games of the year, I thought we played much better defense. The reason why was because of our defensive line.”
The Chippewas have had two practices so far this week and have one more Friday morning. Enos said he has liked what he has seen these first few days out of his team, especially on defense.
“They’re playing with great effort. It’s hard to tell with just being in shorts, but I think our alignments and assignments have been very good,” Enos said. “ I think they are playing extremely hard. I like our secondary; we’re very athletic. We have some good defensive linemen; they are a pretty mature veteran group, and they’ve picked up right where they left off.”
Although CMU is returning five of their top six tacklers from last season, there is room for guys to fill some leadership positions, especially with the departure of defensive captain Jahleel Addae. Enos said he will be looking throughout spring practice for guys to step up and fill roles needed for the team to succeed on defense.
“We need them to take that next step. When you lose a guy like Jahleel (Addae), who was an emotional leader as well as a very good player,” Enos said. “We’re looking for other guys to now take that role, and I think we have guys who are stepping up and doing that.”
This defensive group is experienced with eight defensive backs that are upperclassmen, which includes senior defensive backs Avery Cunningham and Shamari Benton. Junior defensive back Jason Wilson, along with junior linebacker Justin Cherocci, are also returning as veteran leaders on defense.
“We are excited about this group of players on defense,” Enos said. “We have our two leading tacklers back. We have a lot of guys back that have played a lot of football.”
Benton led the Chippewas in tackles in five games last season, including six games in which he recorded double-digit tackling efforts. He had 14 tackles against Navy on Oct. 12, which is a career-high, finishing with 126 tackles on the season, second on the team, 54 of which were solo.
Cherocci led all players last season with 132 tackles and was named Co-Defensive Player of the Year for the Chippewas. He had a career-game against Oct. 27 against Akron when he tied a career-high with 15 tackles along with one pass break up.
Cunningham had a great season as well. He was all over the field last season, recording two interceptions, four pass break ups and two sacks. The senior from Cincinnati, Ohio, also recorded 88 tackles, six of which were for a loss.
Wilson contributed with 50 tackles last season along with two interceptions, including one that was returned 55 yards for a touchdown against Michigan State on Sep. 8.
Enos said he expects all these players to build on what they did last season in continuing to lead the defense in the right direction, which includes being good examples for the younger defensive players.
“Pretty much everyone has to step up and take ownership of this team,” Enos said. “The seniors in particular we’re counting and relying on them to provide the path. Avery is an outstanding player. He’s tough, he’s smart and a good person. Jamari Benton and Justin Cherocci, same things. Those guys are very accountable and very reliable. They make a lot of tackles.”
Along with the veteran players, Enos said he is also looking for a few specific younger guys to take that next step and make an immediate impact for the team next season.
“Kelby Latta, he is a prime example of that,” Enos said. “He is a defensive tackle. He was having a very good camp last season until he got injured and we redshirted him. He’s back, and he’s 100 percent, Joe Bacci and Nate Ricketts at linebacker and Jordan Fields at defensive back are some young guys that I’m really looking at.”
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