With the loss of former defensive coordinator Joe Tresey and a couple of key players, the Youngstown State University football team has a few holes to fill.
Senior linebacker Travis Williams looks to be a leader on defense this season. This comes after Williams started in eight games last season before being replaced by former linebacker Ali Cheaib.
“I did pretty well leading the boys, smacking hands, letting them know we are together,” Williams said.
Last season, Williams tallied 51 tackles and two sacks in 12 games.
Even with the recent dismissal of leading tackler Teven Williams (81 tackles), Travis Williams knows that the team has to move on without him.
Sophomore Jaylin Kelly will take over the middle linebacker spot with Teven Williams gone. Travis Williams knows that the absence of Teven Williams is a big one, but he feels like it is just time for the next guy to step up, and the team has got to put that behind them.
“I feel like I have to step up my play, know my assignments, keep learning and keep getting better everyday,” Kelly said.
Kelly mainly contributed on special teams last season, but did play some defense, totaling seven tackles — two solo and five assisting. Even with the experience that Kelly has, he will need to fill some big shoes at the middle linebacker position.
Junior linebacker Kevon Caffey is also hoping to be a main contributor to the defense. Caffey played in all 12 games last season, totaling 38 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks and a forced fumble. Caffey looks to improve his game and keep his team positive.
“There is always room for improvement,” Caffey said. “With guys graduating and guys leaving, it is just time for the next guy to step up.”
With Tresey gone, the Penguins will look to new defensive coordinator Jamie Bryant, who was the special teams coordinator last year.
“Coach Bryant has been doing very well. There is a lot of terminology that he wants us to know,” Williams said. “He wants us flying around [and] getting to the ball.”
Travis Williams isn’t the only one who feels the intensity that Bryant displays. Caffey also notices the energy that Bryant brings to the field.
“He is a great coach and brings a lot of energy to the field,” Caffey said. “It’s mandatory that we know our assignments, he is doing a great job.”
Bryant will have to improve a Penguins team that was one of the worst defensive teams in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. YSU was eighth in scoring defense, 10th in total defense, ninth in rushing defense and 10th in passing defense.
All the Penguins can do now is try to improve over the spring and not look back at last season.
“We are looking to force a lot more turnovers, playing hard and just knowing our assignments,” Travis Williams said. “We are just getting better, flying around and making plays.”