Friday, April 22, 2011

Linfield Football Spring Review: Defensive Backs

Quarterback and Receivers beware
Welcome back to our next edition of our Spring Football review. WC11 is excited to talk about this group of players as I feel they have been key with the success of the previous two NWC championships and Playoff Runs.

I'm not going to say there isn't a more complete group of defensive backs in division III because with over 200 teams it's impossible to measure up but player-for-player I think you would be hard pressed to find a more talented group of DB's.

I know if Coach Fendall just read that last line he's probably cringing some as he's not one to play to ego or overly pump up his kids but there isn't a coach around that believes more in their players that Coach Fendall and Corner Coach Brandon Hazenberg.

The 'Cats are returning the entire defensive backfield that is going on 3 to 4 years starting for the 'Cats. I can remember it like yesterday when Coach Smith and staff decided it was time to get more aggressive about getting these guys on the field as freshmen after Linfield loss to Willamette in 2008 and that move has paid major dividends for Linfield ever since. Drew Fisher, Kahale Parish, and Kole Krieger will be roaming around the middle of the defense once again and that spells very bad news for those receivers running crossing routs vs the 'Cats defense.

On the outside the trio of Nate Dixon, Taylor Skore, and Christian Hanna will be manning up the corner positions once again for the defense. Coach Fendall was quick to point out the impact that Corner Coach Brandon Hazenberg has made at this position over the past two years; "Coach Hazenberg has worked with this group of corners for the last 2 years and deserves much credit for the development of this group. He has improved our position tremendously." So that should pretty much cover it right? We have a great starting group so that should be it here...not so fast my friends.

Let's talk a little about our Young 'Cats. Once you peal back that layer of returning starters and our steady vets what you have is a young group of VERY talented young defensive backs. I mean, they still have a long ways to go and have a lot of work to put in but last year's Freshmen could have been just as talented if not more than this class of Seniors back in 2008. "Sure, Wildcat11.  Just more Linfield hyperbole" is probably what you're saying but I truly believe this young group of DB's have the potential to be stand out if they keep working hard.   There is a great combination of size, speed, and play making that will find a way on the field in 2011. Keep an eye on these young 'Cats in 2011.

Returning Starters:
Drew Fisher Safety, 6-2 190 lbs, Senior
Taylor Skore Corner, 5-11 185 lbs, Senior
Nate Dixon Corner, 5-9 180 lbs, Senior
Kole Krieger Rover, 6-2 195 lbs, Senior
Kalae Parish Safety, 5-11 193 lbs, Senior
Christian Hanna, Corner, 5-10 195 lbs, Senior

Steady Vets:
Eric Biege Rover, 5-10 190 lbs, Senior
James Testa Rover, 6-1 200 lbs, Senior
Erik Knapp Safety, 5-11 190 lbs, Junior
Hoku Kama Corner, 5' 10" 170 lbs, Junior

Up and Coming:
Tyler Robitaille Safety, 5-11 175 lbs, Sophomore
Brandon Funk Corner, 5-9 160 lbs, Sophomore
Kyle Wright Safety, 6-0 195 lbs, sophomore
Michael Link Corner, 5-11 170 lbs, Sophomore
Ian Zarosinski Safety, 6-0 180 lbs, Sophomore
Colin Forman Corner, 5-11 180 lbs, Sophomore
Josh Smith Rover, 6'3"215 lbs, Sophomore
Ryan Miller Corner, 5-8 160 lbs, Sophomore
Nick Popma, Safety, 5-8 190 lbs, Sophomore
Austin Schilling Rover, 5-10 180 lbs, Sophomore

Talkin ball with Defensive Back Coach Neil Fendall
Coach Fendall will be leading his Defensive Backs in his 6th season with Linfield.
(Wildcat11) Just how excited are you to have back this experienced and this deep of a position group?

(Coach Neil Fendall) It’s nice but there’s never a perfect scenario when coaching a group. I have really focused on developing very specific parts of their game. I want them to continue utilizing their strengths and have tried to give them a specific list of items for improvement. They probably think I can never be satisfied with their play.....And they’re right. I think all the attention they get for being returners hurts them more than helps them so I tell them to stay off the blogs (no offense) and and newspapers (with our expansive coverage by the Oregonian and all). It’s every bit as challenging as breaking in a new group.

I hate it when people think you’re better at a position just because you bring a player back for another year. That is extremely misleading.

(WC11) Tell us what the defensive backs are working on during spring football? How has the group been performing during Spring?

(NF) As a group, we want to continue to play the ball better. We’ve been good at times but I want this whole group to be savage ball attackers.

We also have to improve keys, run fits and tackling. We missed some last year that cost us scores and big plays. This is a tough area during the non-padded spring however.

(WC11) You have a cornerstone of returners and vets but how much impact are the younger DB’s making on the team and with the defense? A number of these guys played some significant minutes during last season…do you expect for them to continue to push for more time?

(NF) More than you think. There’s some pretty good young players and they’ve handled the scheme very well. They got the whole playbook thrown at them this fall and my vets didn’t really see that their first year. We really kept it simple for this current group when they were young because they were starters pretty early. As 2’s, this young group is doing more at a younger age than the vets. The young guys have some strengths that compliment the vets. You could argue some of those strength surpass the guy in front of them. I would like to see these young guys play more this year. The young guys love to play and I think they are good at the ball. A few of them are hitters and they have a chance to be an equally effective group if not better. You’ll see!

(WC11) Fisher, Skore, Dixon, Krieger, Parish, Hanna, Biege, Testa…this will be your 4th year coaching up this crew. You’ve taken them from green players to proven vets, all-conference players, and All-Americans. What’s your relationship like with this group of ‘Cats at this point?

(NF) Well Skore, Dixon and Hanna hardly talk so your guess is as good as mine on how our relationship is! The good part about them is they don’t complain so I like them....alot.

Biege is a clown and thank goodness we have had him around these last few years or our meetings would sound like a morgue.

Testa and Krieger are usually sitting on the side of the room and just nodding their heads.

Parish just says “yes coach.” It’s a pretty automated response that with my voice tempo and inflection can lull him into some responses even though I’m not asking him.

Fish runs his mouth if I let him and is quick to point out my mistakes and weaknesses.

In all seriousness, I feel very close to these guys. I know they don’t see it yet but I care a tremendous amount for them. They are kind of the first “group” of my guys in this position so I will always be indebted to them. In this business, the players really make your career and I can’t express the amount they’ve affected my life. I think our relationship will be lasting and will only improve as they graduate. For now, I don’t want ‘em thinking I’m all soft on ‘em!

(WC11) Headed into 2011 what do you feel is this group’s biggest assets/strengths and what areas are you pushing for the most improvement in?

(NF) Most would say experience is our asset. If you’ve coached for any period of time, then you’ve seen that factor be worthless if you’re not finding ways to get better. I think this group has remained coachable all along the way. They don’t think they know it all and they are humble enough to take a good butt-chewing (from Coach Vaughn, not myself of course). That’s probably what I consider our biggest asset. We don’t sit around thinking about how good we’re going to be. If we’re good, then we’ve failed. We have to be way better than that.

I want them to contribute to this program, not just this team. What I mean is they need to leave their legacy on this place by showing the rest of the team how consistent they are with their effort. These guys are great leaders by example and the team needs to see that. They show up every day (except Thursdays) and they definitely come to play on Saturdays. I think this season they need to really affect the whole team with their example.

We have a chance to be a dominant secondary. That will be affected by our offense and the pressure we put on Quarterbacks. BUT, I think the second you start thinking you’re a good position group, it all goes in the tank. We’ve been good in some other positions and that’s allowed the secondary to be good. In 2009 we led the nation in Interceptions. We were good up front and our offense could score the ball. We also gave up 22 touchdown catches that year and that’s awful. Nobody remembers that part! That was an area we got better at last year by only giving up 11. The fact is, no quarterback is good without protection. No RB can run without an OL. Most definitely, no secondary can be good if we don’t have DL and LB groups that can play. So all this talk means nothing.

We are working on being good at our assignments, helping the players around us fill in for graduated starters and only then can we make plays on the ball.

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