Tuesday, June 5, 2012

2012 Linfield Football Spring Review: Defensive Backs

Corner Brandon Funk will be a player to watch on the 'Cats 2012 defense.
165.  That's the total number of starts that Drew Fisher, Kole Kreiger, Nate Dixon, Kala'e Parish, Christian Hanna, and Taylor Skore accumulated during the 2008-2011 seasons.  That's a lot of football played by a flat out great defensive secondary.  Linfield was truly blessed to have a dynamic group that had a big part in Linfield football regaining their ground on the national stage.  During this past season, the defensive secondary was the heart of the 2011 Linfield Wildcats. With that said, graduating an entire secondary might leave most football programs scrambling in trying to figure out what to do next.  Good thing that Linfield isn't most programs.

Over the past two seasons a group of defensive backs have been waiting for their opportunity to display their talent and ability.  The 2012 season will be the stage these 'Cats will get to make their mark on Linfield Wildcat football.  Honestly, I can't wait to see what this group has to offer up. When the staff brought in this group over the past few seasons the coaching staff knew it was a potentially explosive group.  The thinking is they will have a chance to continue the 'Cats dominate secondary play from the previous 3 seasons.  If you think I'm just selling you a line of bull to make people feel better about 5 new starters in the secondary just take a look at what the 'Cats have done on special teams over the past two seasons.  A big chunk of those lights out hits, blocked punts, kick return TD's, and suffocating coverage came at the hands of the players listed below.  I'm a big believer that young guys that excel on special teams are going to wind up being strong contributors as they move along in the program.  If that theory holds water, then this should be a strong group of defensive backs.

With all of that strong praise also needs to come the reality check.  Linfield has a monster pre-season vs teams with talented and explosive offenses.  There will be no gimmes.  The 'Cats have proven returning talent in the first 2 levels of the Wildcat defense.  You can bet your bottom dollar that offensive coordinators are going to test this secondary early and often to just see if these 'Cats have the goods to stand up to the heat. 

Up and Coming:

*Kyle Wright, M, 6-0 195, Jr, Springfield, Ore.
*Michael Link, CB, 5-11 177, Jr, Portland, Ore.
*Brandon Funk, CB, 5-9 173, Jr, Millwood, Wash.
*Colin Forman, S, 5-11 187, Jr, Beaverton. Ore.
*Ian Zarosinski, CB, 6-0 185, Jr, Vancouver, Wash.
*Mike Nardoni, R, 5-10 185, So, Palos Verdes, Ca.
*Chad Coburn, CB, 5’11 190, Fr., Salem, Ore.
Jordan Giza, M, 5-10 185, So, Salem, Ore.
Adam Dondoyano, CB, 5-9 170, So., Issaquah, Wash.
Ryan Miller, CB, 5-8 170, Jr, Grants Pass, Ore.
Hoku Kama, S, 5-11 185, Jr, Wahiawa, Hawaii
Jeff Dillon, CB, 5-9 180, So., San Francisco,
Davonte McLin, CB 5-8, 160, So., Oceanside,Ca.
Erik Knapp, R, 5-11 190, Sr, Eugene, Ore.
Nick Pietrzyk, R, 6-0 212, Sr., Portland, Ore.

Talking Ball with Defensive Back Coach Neil Fendall
Coach Fendall will be leading his Defensive Backs in his 7th season with Linfield.
(Wildcat11) Coach Fendall, you just came off of three seasons with the same starting defensive backfield and a number of veteran contributors. That was a special group of guys and I know your relationship with them was very tight. Obviously they're a tough group of guys to replace, but with that said, it’s not like you have a group of rookies that you’re scrambling to fill the void. Can you give us a peak in what your mindset is going into the 2012 season? 

(Neil Fendall) My mindset is to get better. Everybody talks about the last group because of the amount of games they played/started, but what they don’t talk about is where we’ve had weaknesses as a position group…and there were some weaknesses. I love the guys who graduated, but I’m not sitting around here missing ‘em. They’ll get a picture in my office but we are moving on. This group coming up can play! We will play the ball and play fast. My job is to get better at coaching and their job is to get better as players.

(WC11) With Spring Football wrapping up a few weeks ago what are the positives you walked away with and what are the main areas of improvement you’re continuing to stress to this group? 

(NF) I saw many positives. My feeling was we might not know what we’re doing all the time but when that ball is in the air, we’re going after it! I like how aggressive we were. The first week, we had to pull the reins a little because we were so aggressive, we let a few deep ones fly. But I liked how the guys adjusted to that as we went on. Areas of improvement is just our depth. Everybody will talk about experience being a weakness because that’s how it looks on paper. However, these guys have been on the field quite a bit already. Last time everybody said we lacked experience, we lead the nation in interceptions. I hope offenses see us as a group to attack…that’s just more opportunities to play the ball!

(WC11) Everything is wide open right now. How do you go about creating unity within the position group while still maintaining that competitive environment where you want guys to battle for time in the rotation? 

(NF) I’m not sure I see it as wide open. I feel like we’ve had a plan in place for this year for a while now. These guys have been developing and working into their roles for 2-3 years and now its just a matter of their names being called in the starting lineup.

I don’t create unity, the players do. They have been doing that since the day they arrived. That’s too big a part of our overall program to miss. It’s been a competitive environment the whole time. That’s just how it is. I’m competing, they’re competing. We’re all here because we love to do that. Shoot, Coach Hazenberg and I would compete for air-time in our own meetings the last few years. Now that he’s coaching WR’s, we’re competing against each other even more. But there’s a great relationship and love there and he nor I wouldn’t want it any other way! I might even lay him out a couple times in practice during the year! Head on a swivel Coach Haze!

(WC11) A big bulk of these guys put in some incredible work on special teams over the past two seasons for the program and did see some significant reps during the 2011 season. Just how valuable was that experience for this group and what is the importance of the young guys making a contribution to special teams early in their careers? 

(NF) I think they saw significant reps for the last 2 years. If you go back and watch every special team rep (which I have) and watch these guys play, you won’t be worried about them getting it done. Take Kyle Wright for example. That guy is dominant at times on special teams. He flat gets after you. Now he’s just doing that from the Monster position. Yeah, there will be mistakes but returning starters make a lot of mistakes too. I look at some of the top programs in the country and how valuable their special teams are. People watch Oregon on TV all the time (they’ve been okay lately). Watch their starting receivers and running backs on punt team. Watch them cover kickoffs. Watch their DB’s return punts and kicks. Starters! I support special teams to a fault sometimes, but I truly believe that’s your audition in making plays. A lot of guys look good in drills and getting lined up, but we need the guys who make plays.

(WC11) Looking up and down the list of defensive backs you have talented football players. What can the fans of Linfield football expect out of this group next season in terms of their style of play and personality? 

(NF) They can expect our style to continue to support our overall defensive philosophy. We will ATTACK, be VERSATILE, DISGUISE coverages, and play as a TEAM!

I can’t wait to get out on the field this fall. We’ve got another group of frosh coming in that will impress as well. They will support the position group with depth and desire to play. I’ll bet in 2 years, I could write these same things about them. We plan to prepare like no other group and continue to play fast and smile. Let’s just get to August and see what happens! We’ll see what it looks like. I have learned over the years that the enemy of experience is complacency and the benefit of youth is enthusiasm. We’ll go to work with great enthusiasm. CAN’T WAIT!

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