Defense is an area where the Youngstown State University Penguins struggled last year. YSU was ranked near the bottom in almost every defensive statistical category in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
With new defensive coordinator Jamie Bryant, the Penguins look to turn that around.
With the loss of former defensive tackle Kyle Sirl and some other seniors, the defensive line has a new look and feel early this spring. Head coach Eric Wolford sees the improvement the line has made over the spring.
“Our defensive line has by far been the most improved group on our football team,” Wolford said. “It is glaring. They are aggressive and fast.”
Wolford gave high praise to junior college transfer Vince Coleman, calling him a one-man wrecking crew. Wolford said that even though the line doesn’t get many style points, they are a very solid group.
Junior Steve Zaborsky feels the competition on the defensive line and sees the intensity they have all brought this year.
“As far as the D-line goes, I know everyone is competing,” Zaborsky said. “There is not a set first string or second string. It is all written in pencil, so it could be erased daily.”
Zaborsky played in 12 games last year and started eight. He totaled 14 tackles — eight solo and six assists — during the season.
Coleman said that Bryant has told him to step up and become more of a vocal leader.
“Honestly, I usually feed off of teammates,” Coleman said. “Coach told me I have to be a leader.”
Coleman played in 12 games last season as a reserve defensive end. He totaled 20 tackles, accumulating from 10 solo and 10 assisted.
Zaborsky and Coleman have both become accustomed to the new defensive coordinator.
“I love it,” Coleman said. “He is doing great things with us and he knows what he is doing.”
Zaborsky feels as if Bryant has made the playbook simpler for the defense to be more aggressive.
“He is simplifying a lot of things, and when you simplify things, it makes us able to think less and react,” Zaborsky said. “Since plays are simpler, we can go full speed, and when you are going full speed and making plays, that is when you compete.”
After having an underachieving defense last year, the Penguins know that third down is key.
“We really have felt like third down has been a hamstring for us when it comes to taking the next step for this program,” Wolford said.
Wolford said the team had 52 third down plays in practice. The line also knows that third down is the make it or break it’ down.
Youngstown was at the bottom of the conference last year when it came to sacks, totaling 22 all season. The Penguins were also last in pass defense where they allowed 26 touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks.
“As a D-line, we are really focusing on getting to the quarterback,” Zaborsky said. “We are definitely getting at the pass rush a lot more, and if you look at the stats during spring, we definitely picked up our sacks.”
Zaborsky explained that with added pressure to the quarterback, the defense will hopefully throw off the timing of the throw.
“What that leads to is interceptions,” Zaborsky said. “We are trying to at least affect the quarterback, so he throws the ball up and we can get more interceptions.”
YSU was at the bottom in the interception category last season with 10.
With the defensive line being one of the most improved groups in spring practice, they look to give the defense some confidence and bring the heat.