The defense, particularly the run defense, was one of the bright spots for the first two weeks of spring practice, but it's changed dramatically here of late.
"This week we've lagged off and we just can't let that continue," said Poppinga. "The offense has picked it up, and that's good and you have to credit them, but a lot of what happened today was because we weren't playing well. I guess they [defensive players] thought that they arrived after eight practices in spring, but now I think they all realize that they're not even close to where they may have thought. Sometimes you need to get your butt kicked out there to help you grow, and we certainly got our butts kicked out there today."
On Tuesday Joshua Quezada and Bryan Kariya scored touchdowns of 1 yard and 33 yards, respectively. They joined with J.J. Di Luigi in having a very productive day. The backs often went 8 yards up the field without being touched.
Despite the day's failures in defending the running game, there have been many positive things accomplished by the defense this spring. Outside linebacker in particular looks to be a very strong position going forward.
"Kyle [Van Noy] and Jameson [Frazier] have really stepped in as leaders," noted Poppinga. "They're both going to be huge playmakers for us off the edge. They've both played very well and progressed very well through the first 10 practices."
Both Van Noy and Frazier are playing Sam and Will, depending on what side of the field they're on this spring. Van Noy stays on the defensive left side, with Frazier staying on the defensive right side, which is a departure from what they've done in the past.
"We just have a right and left outside linebacker with both Kyle and Frazier on the field," explained Poppinga. "They both know the Sam and the Will good enough that they don't have to go back and forth. If the side they're on is the short side of the field, they play Will, and if it's the long side, then they're the Sam."
"Kyle did such a great job last year learning both positions that we're able to do that, and the same with Jameson," he continued. "It's not an easy thing to do but both of them, especially Kyle as just a true freshman, did a phenomenal job with it last year, and that's continued so that I don't feel the need to have them switch sides."
A player Poppinga mentioned that will definitely have a role within the defense this year is Alani Fua.
"Alani obviously doesn't know the defense as well as the other guys at this point," he said about Fua. "He can make plays better than any of them out there though and has amazing athleticism to make those plays, so he's a real exciting player for us with a ton of potential. He just needs to learn the defense better."
Fua has been playing the Sam position, but Poppinga has also been impressed with the progression of Kevan Bills, who is playing the Will position after coming home off his mission.
"I'm really liking what I'm seeing from him," Poppinga said about Bills. "The first week he was a little slow at reacting, but you can already see him getting better, and he's going to be a really good player for us once he learns the defense."
Regarding Ezekial Ansah, Poppinga had similar things to say.
"There's just a big learning curve for him as well," Poppinga said. "He has all the physical ability in the world, but his mind just hasn't caught up to that athleticism yet. But once it does, he'll be able to help us a ton, especially as a pass rusher."
Connell Hess has always been someone who practices well and knows the defense well enough to provide some valuable insurance, according to Poppinga.
"He's very trustworthy out there," he said about Hess.
Overall, the outside linebacker position looks to be very deep and potentially very strong. When Jordan Pendleton returns, it will only add to that strength, as he's proven to be one of the better defensive players in the program.
"It's so tough not having him out here," said Poppinga about Pendleton. "He obviously can't be out here because he's hurt, and that's hurting the team more than him just because he's not practicing in the culture Bronco has developed in this defense. It's very important for players to be part of that and man, it just kills me that he can't be out here."
Pendleton will eventually be back and will likely assume a starting role upon his return. Upon Pendleton's return, Poppinga will figure out what that role will be and how it relates to the others. Currently, Poppinga's just trying to bring up the guys he has available to be the best players they can be.
"We want to be a dominant defensive unit and the hardest working defense in the country," he summed up. "We took a hit with that today with how we performed, but now it's up to us as coaches to fix it. We aim to do just that over the next couple of days and we're going to bring it as a unit for our full-padded work on Friday. They better be bringing it, at least."