Friday, April 29, 2011

Linfield Football Spring Review: Defensive Line

Returning Starter and All-NWC Defensive End Sparky Gonzales is looking to have big year.
Alright, let's wrap up the defensive side of the ball by talking about the smartest and best athletes on the field...the defensive line! Being a former Defensive End you probably think that I'm a little biased with that statement but it's been scientifically proved that Defensive Linemen possess the athletic ability of a Bengal Tiger while being able answer 85% of Final Jeopardy questions. Just cold hard facts.

Anyways...Linfield's defensive line headed into 2011 has some obvious shoes to fill in the departure of 1st team All-American Eric Hedin (DE) and unquestioned leader and wrecking ball Paul Nishizaki (DT), along with the solid play in Scotty Ray (DT). While that sounds like big holes to fill, which it is, the 'Cats have more than enough talent coming back to be a very tough front unit.

Wildcat11 is expecting a big year from our two returning starters in defensive end Sparky Gonzalez and Defensive Tackle Tyler Steele. Both have a significant amount of experience and are proven playmakers for the Linfield defense but with the departure of Hedin and Nish the onus is on Sparky and Steele to rise their games up a level is even more paramount.

Along with our two returning starters, a trio of vets are going to get an opportunity to make their impact upfront. Shimabukuro, Patrick, and Reyes are going to get their chance to make an impact this year in help solidify the 'Cats upfront. I think both Patrick and Reyes are going to help tremendously up the middle with their size and that Shim's speed and agility will be a big bonus vs pass heavy teams. I expect these three guys to be what any good vets should be...a steady and positive influence on the position group both on and off the field.

And once again, Wildcat11 is excited to see what the young bucks bring to the table. The possibility of this group to become a dominate force during the next 3 seasons is there....if they want it. A number of our up and comers saw the field last year during live action and they proved they have the chops to play and impact the team. However, WC11 just saying that these young kids will excel and that happening isn't a mortal lock. This group is talented but not so talented like a Bruce Assily (for those that have been around the 'Catdome for a long time) where they can just show up day one and breakdown anyone that lines up across from them. It's up to the young 'Cats to put in the time, work, and effort in order to make it happen otherwise there could be some struggles if Linfield sustain any injuries to the vets.

Overall, WC11 is very optimistic about the blend of this position group. There is no easy start for this defensive line as they're going to face a motivated and large offensive line out of the gates next season. However, with hard work and the leadership provided by the vets I think we'll see this group tough it out early and eventually blossom into a big strength of the 2011 Wildcats.

Returning Starters
Sparky Gonzalez, Defensive End, 6-1, 256 lbs, Senior
Tyler Steele, Defensive Tackle, 6-1, 255 lbs, Junior

Steady Vets
Brent Shimabukuro, Defensive End, 5-9, 205 lbs, Senior
Tommy Patrick, Defensive Tackle, 6-3, 255 lbs, Junior
Joell Reyes, Defensive Tackle, 6-3, 270, Senior

Up and Coming
Brynnan Hyland Defensive End, 6-2, 220 lbs, Sophomore
Nathan Herrick Defensive Tackle, 6-2, 270 lbs, Sophomore
KeAlii Poomaihealani Defensive End, 6-1, 215 lbs, Sophomore
Nick Rhoten Defensive End, 6-2, 240 lbs, Sophomore
Jacob Olson Defensive Tackle, 6-2, 227 lbs, Junior
Kyle McLennan Defensive End, 6-2, 220 lbs, Sophomore
Kyle Rehberger Defensive Tackle, 6-0, 240 lbs, Sophomore
Mike Maierhofer Defensive Tackle, 5-9, 220 lbs, Sophomore
Aaron Hanson Defensive End, 6'0, 200 lbs, Sophomore
Dustin Grimps Defensive End, 6’2 230 lbs. Sophomore
Nick Rhoten, Defensive End, 6-2, 240 lbs. Sophomore
James Lohan, Defensive Tackle, 6-1 250 lbs. Sophomore

Talkin' Ball With Defensive Coordinator/D-Line Coach Jackson Vaughan

Coach Vaughan will be entering his 6 year as the 'Cats D.C. and 15th overall with the program.
(Wildcat11) First, thank you Coach for making some time for us today. Know you’re a busy guy with dealing with both spring ball and heading up the #1 softball team in the country. First question that anybody that follows the ‘Cats and the NWC is how is the defense going to replace the production of Eric Hedin at Defensive End?

(Jackson Vaughan) I don’t think you can totally replace the production that Eric had last year because he had such a phenomenal year and was an impact player on so many snaps in every game. But we have guys that are going to step in, play hard, and make plays up front. We will also have to ask our linebackers and secondary to make a few more plays each game to make up for some of the playmaking ability we lose with Eric’s departure.

(WC11)Not too often you have a D-Lineman leads your team in tackles but Eric just did that along with smashing multiple records along the way. Are you concerned about the returning the defensive ends feeling they have to fill those shoes by putting pressure on themselves to accumulate crazy numbers?

(JV) I am not worried about that aspect at all. Our guys just need to focus on being the best players that they possibly can. This is something that is talked about with our group a lot. If they start to compare themselves to past or present players or worry about stats then they will lose focus on the task at hand and will not reach their full potential as a player.

(WC11) How are you feeling about the returning DE’s that will be compete ting for that spot on the defensive line and how have they been performing this Spring?

(JV) We are still a work in progress. I like the effort and work ethic. We just need some of our younger players (Hyland, Poomaihealani, McLennan) to get more experience so we can really see what they are capable of. For Sparky and Brent this time of year is really be used to focus on improving small things in their game because they have so much more experience in the system.

(WC11)I think a player that was lost a little in Eric’s season was the play of our other starting defensive end Sparky Gonzales. Sparky had a very solid year with 10 tackles for loss and 7 quarterback sacks and had flashes,(for example vs PLU), of being a dominate defensive player. How good of a Senior year could Sparky have and what do you think he needs to do to raise his game to the next level?

(JV) Sparky is a great athlete with the ability to make a lot of plays and can certainly has the potential to be a dominate player. The biggest things he needs to work on to elevate his game to a dominate level are in his physicality and mental approach to the game on every snap. Up to this point in his career Sparky as always been able to be the “Robin” to Hedin, Estrada, etc’s “Batman”. For us to be great on defense we need Sparky to step up as “the guy” and be a consistent force both against the pass and the run with a relentless motor on every snap.

(WC11) Those that are close to the program know just how much Paul Nishizaki meant to the Defensive line over the past 3 season at that DT position and also Scotty Ray. While Nish and Ray didn’t put up huge numbers that wasn't really their job as they caused big issues for the opponent's run game and I think there was no question that Nish was the leader of that group. I think we have a budding force in Tyler Steele coming back at DT but how are you feeling about our depth right now at Defensive Tackle?

(JV) Yes, graduating Nish and Scotty is certainly a big loss. They were both great players and great teammates and Nish was really part coach his last two years. Those intangibles are certainly going to be hard to replace. However, you can still see Nish and Scotty’s footprints all over the returning DT’s with the work ethic and approach to the game that they handed down to the younger players. If our younger guys can learn to play with the same heart and attention to detail as those guys we will be in good shape. As for our depth, I feel pretty good about things. We have one established guy in Tyler Steele who is certainly one of the most talented and hardest working guys we have in the program. After Tyler everything is pretty wide open and really won’t be decided until camp next fall.

(WC11) Do some of our vets have an opportunity to make waves and how are you feeling about our up and coming DT’s?

(JV)The one returning veteran who we are hoping can step in and play a lot of snaps is Tommy Patrick. Tommy is a good athlete who does some really nice things and shows a knack for rushing the passer and making plays. Joell Reyes is another veteran who is athletic and understands our defense very well – we are just working on his transition from DE to TE to DT and the emphasis on pad level and physicality that playing inside requires. After Tommy and Joell you are primarily talking about sophomores with Nathan Herrick, Mike Maierhofer, and Kyle Rehberger leading the charges in that class. All of the younger guys certainly have some encouraging strengths that keep me excited for the future but are still raw enough that they keep me pretty grounded and focused on the daily improvement of our entire group.

(WC11) Want to change it up on you a little and ask you about the overall defense for next season. Personally, I think the potential is there to have another great year on the defensive side of the ball. I see the identity being different from last season but with the talent and speed you have across the field if this group can perform early I see them growing as the season moves along. What do you see as the identity of this defense next year and what do you see as our weaknesses and strengths as of today?

(JV)I think our identity on defense never changes a whole lot at Linfield. It will be based on having good athletes who are tough, disciplined, read well, and fly to the football. The thing that does change is the leaders and the way in which each defense responds and handles adversity. The face of our defense last year really began with Hedin and Nish. Those guys are now gone and we have this very experienced and talented secondary who now must be the backbone of the defense if we want to be great next season. They will certainly have more responsibility on their shoulders to make plays and keep the defense heading the right direction in good times and in bad. If they succeed in this area then we have a chance to be a pretty strong defense again next fall.

As for overall strengths at this point of the year I would have to say our depth talent in the secondary, our young talent at linebacker, and our overall speed on defense are definite strengths. The biggest weaknesses right now are lack of experience with our linebacking corps and physical size on the defensive line.

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