Davie looks for more aggressive defense
By TIM CASEY
Assistant Sports Editor
Listen to cornerback Brock Williams describe the Irish defense for a few minutes and the words "aggressive" and "improved" are bound to arise on numerous occasions. Just don't ask him to share any insight on how the Irish plan on defending the upcoming opponents.
"I can't describe our defense because that's something I don't want to do because of the coaches or something like that," Williams said. "I can't tell you what the defenses are but we'll be more aggressive. You're going to see a lot of stuff, I guarantee you that. You'll see, man."
With practices closed to the media and a tight-lipped coaching staff, Irish fans will have to wait for the Sept. 2 season opener against Texas A&M for any real insight into the defensive schemes and game plan. But there will be some subtle changes. Or at least that's the company line.
"We've made some scheme changes," head coach Bob Davie said. "Obviously, we want to be more aggressive and we have to be better in pass coverage."
Though Davie, Williams and the rest of the Irish refuse to specifically comment on what those changes are, one thing remains clear: forget a new quarterback, a relatively inexperienced receiving corps or any of the other offensive concerns. Davie and his troops are cheifly concerned about the other side of the ball.
"Our number one priority is to show improvement on defense," said Davie after the Irish's scrimmage last Saturday. "Number two, I would probably have to say is the depth on the front seven, particularly at linebacker. And then I would have to say the secondary."
Davie's worries arise from a 1999 season marred in mediocrity. A year ago, the Irish yielded an average of 27.6 points and 383.7 yards per game. In a winless November, their statistics went south, culminating with a 40-37 loss at Stanford. In that game the Cardinal gained 472 total yards with 385 coming through the air.
After losing safeties Deke Cooper and A'Jani Sanders to graduation, the secondary looks to reload with seniors Tony Driver (free safety) and Ron Israel (strong safety) slated to start as of Thursday. At the corners, Williams will start alongside either Clifford Jefferson or Shane Walton, who are competing for the right cornerback nod.
The Irish will face three of the nation's top quarterbacks this season in Nebraska's Eric Crouch, Purdue's Drew Brees and USC's Carson Palmer.
"The writers don't know the talent we have at corners," Williams said. "I've watched a lot of film on a lot of corners and I don't think there are too many teams out there with the corners we have."
Other personnel concerns include naming a backup at drop linebacker. As of Thursday, starting inside linebacker Anthony Denman is also listed as the reserve to starter Rocky Boiman. Also, with the number of injuries and surgeries last season, a key for the 2000 campaign is to upgrade the second-team defense. Of the defensive backups (excluding Denman and Jefferson, who started last year), only left cornerback Jason Beckstrom and left defensive end Ryan Roberts logged more than 30 minutes of playing time in 1999.
"We've emphasized that the past few practices," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "Maybe there's a difference in maturity and experience but a lot of these kids don't know how fast the game is played at until they're in there."
They should know come next Saturday.
The Irish will begin today's practice with a scrimmage between the first offense and second defense, then the second offense against the first defense with the second teams simulating Texas A&M's plays. The practice will also include kicking situations and passing situations between the first team offense and defense.
Tailbacks Julius Jones and Terrance Howard will miss today's practice because of hamstring injuries. They may return to practice on Monday.
"They just can't go full speed right now," Davie said. "If we played this Saturday, they both would probably play."
Three players left the team since school ended in May. Offensive lineman Neil Ambron returned home to Colorado and may not play football again. Wide receiver Jamaar Taylor, who left just prior to preseason camp, has enrolled at Texas A&M and defensive back Albert Poree has enrolled at Georgia Tech.
All Sports Stories for Friday, August 25, 2000