(Note: My apologies for the delay in defensive season summary. The events of the past two weeks have thrown us here at The Wire for a collective loop, including yours truly. I have a personal relationship with Coach Carthel, and know the Carthel family well. It was not something I was anticipating….Russell)
Greetings, Lion fans, and welcome to a look back at the 2018 season of the A&M-Commerce Lions “Blue Gang” defense.
OVERVIEW-What can be said about this unit other than the word spectacular? In games against William Jewell, Eastern New Mexico, Midwestern State, and UT-Permian Basin, when the offense was sputtering, the defense stepped in and won the game. Against Colorado State-Pueblo and Tarleton State, the defense kept the Lions in the game and gave them the opportunity to win.
The season began with a cloud of uncertainty. While returning nine starters, the Lions had lost coordinator Justin Deason to Incarnate Word. They went through spring football without a coordinator or philosophy until Scott Power came on board late spring from Central Washington. The questions were there. Could they adapt to a different terminology? Could they all get on the same page? The answer to that was a resounding yes. After an unsure beginning in a victory over A&M-Kingsville, The Lion defense clamped down, eventually becoming the top defense in the Lone Star Conference. The only meltdowns came against Colorado State-Pueblo and Tarleton State, when a mixture of offensive mistakes and, at times, what can only be described as questionable officiating, left them on the field far too long.
FRONT SEVEN-This is where the impact of graduation will be felt the most. Gone on the defensive line are Michael Onoha, who led the team in sacks, and Payton Searcy, and Josh Reynolds. Leading tacklerBrucks Saathoff leaves, and his running mate, Garrett Blubaugh, is off to medical school. Linebackers Mark Westbrook and Neema Behbahani return, however, as well as nose tackles Pierre Leonard and D.D. Fletcher.
SECONDARY-This is where the strength of the 2019 defense appears to be. Gone are Danny Huckaby and Chris Smith, but veterans LA Dawson, Jaylon Edwards-Cooper, Kader Kohou, Alex Shillow, and Dominique Ramsey return, and we have yet to see the bumper crop of redshirts from last year’s recruiting class.
LOOKING AHEAD-The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Lions again are looking for a new defensive coordinator, as Scott Power has followed Colby Carthel eastward to SFA. New Head Coach David Baliff has his work cut out for him, but at a first glance, his belief in the 4-2-5 set would appear to benefit the depth of Lion defensive backs and the apparent lack of it in the linebacking and defensive line corps. Baliff believes in an aggressive, attacking style of defense, which this group is familiar with.
CLOSING ARGUMENTS-There’s a lot of uncertainty in Lion Nation. There’s also a lot of hope and things to look forward to. How will the redshirt freshmen fit in? What will the recruiting class look like? How will the new 4-2-5 set fit?
It’s always darkest before the dawn, Lion fans, and the view from here is one of hope and optimism. The talent base here is good and deep. The incoming head coach has strong Texas high school connections, and is a proven recruiter. There’s a lot to look forward to.
Now….when is the spring game?