SFA's defensive line has shown key improvements during spring practices
April 4, 2014
The Clint Conque era at Stephen F. Austin has officially begun as the Lumberjacks have commenced on their 2014 spring practice schedule. Each practice session, SFAJacks.com will highlight a different position as today we begin breaking down the defensive positions for the 'Jacks, starting up front with the defensive line. The reports will conclude with coverage of the 2014 Spring Game, being held at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 12th at Homer Bryce Stadium.
NACOGDOCHES, Texas – As the second week of spring practice comes to a close, the focus shifts to the defensive side of the ball, the one which arguably has the most to prove heading into the 2014 season.
For as prolific as the SFA offense has been the last few seasons, the defense has been suspect at best, allowing 49.3 points and 527.8 yards per game in 2013. The Lumberjacks concluded the season giving up 189.8 yards on the ground and 338.0 yards in the air per game and head into 2014 having lost a number of key seniors defensively.
However through the first two weeks of spring practice, it has been the SFA defensive units that have appeared to have the edge. For the ‘Jacks’ new coaching staff, they are hoping the early jump equals an improved defensive unit in the fall.
“It’s a little bit easier to transition from the defense they had been running to the defense we’re playing, moreso than the offense,” said defensive tackle coach Chris Van Horn. “The offense has new schemes, new blocking patters, new running routes, things like that. For us, it’s the basic fundamentals they’ve been taught their whole lives. The key for us is just to play hard, and that makes it easier to adapt.”
SFA knows a great deal of its defensive success will rest on the defensive line and how quickly the leadership role among the young group can be established. Under the direction of Van Horn and defensive end coach Adam Federle, the duo has stressed the urgency for playmakers to make their marks.
“We have a bunch of guys that haven’t had much experience in the starter role, so we’re trying to develop who will be those leaders that will step up and own the room and the play,” Federle said. “We have some solid players and we’re looking to see who will be those guys that will naturally step up. Whether it’s a senior or a freshman, an end or a tackle, we’re looking for the guys that will make us better as a whole.”
Both Federle and Van Horn admit that the interior of the SFA defensive line boasts the most experience and has looked solid throughout spring practice. Led by juniors Donald Bryant and Lance Skyler, Van Horn admits he has been pleased with the effort of the tackles, who have set the tone during the spring season.
“Lance has emerged as a vocal leader, and matches that with great effort and great technique. On the other hand, Donald has been a leader by what he does on the field – having intensity every play and taking his assignments seriously. Both of those guys have been great examples to the younger guys.”
Sophomore Shayvion Hatten is another player the coaches are looking to have a productive season as he led all returning defensive tackles with 46 stops and 5.5 tackles for loss in 2013. Senior Ashante Joseph also provides some experience up front as sophomore Rodney Timmons and redshirt freshman Juvon Gales have also seen valuable experience over the past nine practice sessions.
At the defensive end slot, senior Ismiah Miles brings the most in-game experience as he led the ‘Jacks in both tackles for loss (11.5) and sacks (5.0) in 2013, finishing the year with 41 tackles. He anchors a young group that consists of sophomores Kedrick Harrison, Artrez Price and Jamal Allen, all of which saw limited action last season. Redshirt freshman Mitchell Zimmerle has also been solid for SFA, providing some much-needed depth up front.
Heading into Saturday’s second scrimmage at Lufkin High School, both Van Horn and Federle have specific things they are looking to see from the men up front. Mostly, they are hoping the trend continues as the defensive line helps guide the defensive unit to a strong showing in the final tuneup before the spring game.
“For us its all about the basics,” Van Horn said. “We want to get lined up right, know our assignments, give a solid effort and play smart football. We’re going to put a little bit more stress on the older guys and get them out there for some extended series, see how they react when they are tired and a little beaten down yet still put forth the same effort.”
“Coming off the year the defense had last year, for me the biggest thing is to see which of these guys want it, and who will be making the sacrifices to earn those spots and take this program to where it needs to go,” said Federle. “We’ve seen some good strides in that regard, and tomorrow we’re looking for those who are taking it to the next level.”
As a reminder that SFA's second scrimmage has been moved to Saturday, April 5, at Lufkin High School, beginning at 4 p.m. Admission to the scrimmage is free.
2014 SFA Spring Practice Schedule
Monday, March 24 - Q&A with head coach Clint Conque
Wednesday, March 26 - Quarterbacks
Friday, March 28 - Wide Receivers
Saturday, March 29 - Scrimmage One
Monday, March 31 - Running Backs
Wednesday, April 2 - Offensive Line/Tight Ends
Friday, April 4 - Defensive Line
Saturday, April 5 - 4 p.m. (scrimmage two - Lufkin H.S.)
Monday, April 7 - 4 p.m. (shells)
Wednesday, April 9 - 8 p.m. (full pads)
Thursday, April 10 - 4 p.m. (shells)
Friday, April 11 - 4 p.m. (helmets)
Saturday, April 12 - 6:30 p.m. (spring game)