Defense Springs Back to Form

During spring camp, the biggest surprise defensively has been the ability of coaches to squeeze every ounce of ability and effort out of BYU defenders. However, it has only been in the past two weeks that the offense and defense have really began to battle on a level playing field.

At the beginning of spring, the offense was unstoppable. John Beck and Co. tore apart a base defense that was just trying to learn a new system. BYU's bigger and more experienced players simply dominated day after day as the defense struggled to put up a fight.

That continued for two weeks; then something began to change. Once the defensive players began to master the two base defensive packages, the offense no longer had the advantage. A scrappy defense that was been beaten practice after practice began to implement new formations, stunts, blitz and cover packages that uncorked a bottle full of pent up frustration.

"I think as we've come along, we had two plays and that was it," said outside linebacker Bryan Kehl. "The offensive linemen are veterans and they knew what we were doing, so they would pick up on it quick and would eat apart our D-line. Now that we've put in two more D-line stunts to our defense today, and then you add those to the ones we put in last week and the week before, there's more of a variety, so the O-line can't pick up on what we're doing as well."

No longer could the offense line have their way with they knew what was coming before the snap. For John Beck and the receivers it was like shooting fish in a barrel, and with talent like Manase Tonga, Fui Vakapuna, Andrew George, Vic So'oto and McKay Jacobson to an already talented and experienced group, it was like shooting fish in a bucket.

"It's tough because the offense knows what we're going to do and we have to react to what the offense is doing anyways," said Kehl. "Plus they're older, bigger and stronger so it makes it tough for us, but now we've been able to battle back because we've added a couple more plays and have more practice running them as well as polished up on some older ones. You can see how competitive we can be as a defense."

The situation was especially tough for someone as competitive as Cameron Jensen, who tried his best to direct a defense against an offense that could easily rank in the top 10 nationally.

"You know it really isn't fair," said Jensen with a laugh. "Especially during the first two weeks when we only had two defenses in. John [Beck] new exactly where we were going to be at and I bet he knew where he was going to throw it even before the snap, but as spring went on we kind of new some of their calls as well so it's become even now."

However, for the past two weeks luck gave way to a more competitive defense that began to battle back. In what is the second to last day of spring camp, BYU coaches warmed up their players, went over technique drills and then gathered them together on the grassy side of the field for a full contact scrimmage. The first team defense faced the first team offense in a tough battle that left some offensive players frustrated.

"The defense had a little emotion today," said Kehl. "We were flying around and making some pops and getting a little excited afterwards. That's what this game is all about and I love it."

"The first two weeks were just mainly the base packages," Jensen said. "These last two have been putting in new systems-blitzing, stunts, corner blitzes and just all sorts of things like that. That has kind of helped us come back against the offense more. Instead of just being back there playing the same defense, we start blitzing and putting more pressure on, coming from different angles and doing different coverages which makes it more difficult for the offense to attach us."

Although he hates to admit it, BYU offensive linemen Jake Kuresa has seen how the defensive line has won some recent battles over spring practice.

"The D-line is fighting right now," said Kuresa. "I know there's not that much experience, but those two especially have really stepped it up. They just keep fighting and they're getting better every week."

Inside linebacker Cameron Jensen echoed Jake Kuresa's comments.

"It's almost our last practice before our spring game," said inside linebacker Cameron Jensen. "Our defense has come a long ways and we've put a lot of work into becoming better, and you can see how we've improved as spring practice went on. I think we've got the basics of this defense learned and it will be key for us during the off-season going into fall."

BYU defensive coaches have been able to squeeze more mileage out fo the defensive line than a hybrid car gets out of a gallon of gas. The future is bright for BYU's defense if they continue to progress both on the field and off.

"I've been impressed by Judd [Anderton] and Denney who has a lot of ability," said Kuresa. "Obviously he's a Denney so you have to expect that, but he's young and hasn't really been in the weight room very much, but he's maxing out for his strength and his speed right now.

"For someone with his limited experience, right off a mission, not having as much time in the weight room, he's playing a lot better than he should be. Once he can back up his playing with more weight room activity and playing experience, he's going to be really good and good for our defense. It's the same with Jan [Jorgensen] and Kyle Luekenga too. In about two years from now, our defense is going to be relying on those guys instead of waiting for those guys to figure it out because they are going to be big time players."

Veteran linebacker Cameron Jensen is also pleased with the performance of his young but scrappy D-linemen.

"The thing about those three is they may not be the biggest guys but they play hard," said linebacker Cameron Jensen. "Those guys you just love to go to battle with because they won't back down. They're competitors and they'll go up against the biggest guys on the offensive line. I just love going into battle with people like that."

During today's scrimmage, the defensive line held the offense from scoring three times on the goal line and on some short yardage situations. For some offensive players, the outcome was very frustrating.

"The D-line played amazing today," Kehl said. "How many times did they have second and short or third and short and guys filled the holes, linebackers stepped up and made some plays. Today was a good day, and it's exciting to the defense come along like we have. We have one more spring practice game before the spring game and so it's good to see the defense step up like this towards the end of spring heading into the summer and into the fall."

"As far as going against the offense it's been back and fourth all spring," said Jensen. "When they get the better of us we want to come out and take it to them the next practice. I'm just very happy with how our defense is playing especially within this new system."

Kuresa is not quite willing to say the defense got the best of him on Tuesday. He thinks some some of the recent D-line success comes from some of the lack of experience from the newer offensive personnel.

"We knew it was run and when both of us know it's going to be a run, it's tough," said Kuresa of Vakapuna's rush fro a one-yard loss. "There is no way I can admit that the D-line was getting the best of us. I was right in the middle of it and I know we were moving the offense, but when one guy leaks it ruins the whole thing.

"Our guys just gotta get our responsibilities down and get their footwork down, and tighten it up on the goal line. Goal line is a different type of blocking and the defensive linemen know that because we go over it everyday. A lot of time the fullbacks, tight ends and the receivers who are asked to push in and block don't know the difference between blocking at the goal line and back out in the middle of the field."

However, Bryan Kehl feels that inexperience should not be used as an excuse.

"As the game progresses, whether it's during our own practices or during an actual game, you have to change it up so your opponents can't adapt," said Kehl. "We have to adapt to what they're doing before they adapt to us, so it becomes a challenge on who can do it first which is why we learn different things to kept them guessing.

"It's the same with me too because I go up against the tight ends a lot, I've noticed I would do certain moves and it works really well, but then they watch film and start to pick up on what I was doing. So now, I have to become more creative and pick up on some more stuff. So I have to do more stunting, more faking, more jumping around to catch them off guard."

So has BYU's defense been able to adapt more quickly than the younger more inexperience offensive linemen? Maybe and maybe not but one aspect of the recent defensive success seems to match many of the early spring practice criticisms by defensive players.

"We run the same plays," said a frustrated Kuresa. "The plays are designed the same. The difference is the defense will tighten up and shoot inside more and they're a lot lower. On the goal line, the defensive line isn't worried about passing responsibilities. They're just worried about moving the offenses line back, and knowing that, we as offensive linemen have to change our technique a little bit.

"We have to get a little bit lower and be a little more cautious about not getting beat inside, tighten up your splits a little bit so we can move the ball in such a short area like the goal line or a short yardage situation. The success of those situations just comes with experience across the line with the tight ends, fullbacks and receivers that blocking inside. Right now we don't have Manase or Joe playing and had to have Dan Coats play fullback which he never has before.

"If you look at our goal line last year we were really effective with our reads and stuff, and I just think the experience isn't there right now. I'm not going to say the defense got us today because we still put up a lot of points today, but right on the goal line stand that's where we really needed to step it up today and we didn't but I'm not worried."

Kuresa feels that when the offense gets back some of their veteran talent to meld with the newer talent that's gained more experience from spring practice; the defense will be challenged even more so come fall camp.

"That's the one positive thing about this is that we have a lot of guys with experience that are injured like Dallas [Reynolds], Ray Feinga and Travis Bright and especially the experience with Dallas and Ray because we know they can play," said Kuresa. "We don't know if David Oswald or Nick Longshore, Moose [Marco Thorson], Sete [Aulai], Jeff Rhea can really do because none of those guys played last year.

"So with those guys sitting out it's given these other guys a chance to learn the little things in an actual situation going up against a tough defense. When these other guys that have that experience come back that will give us even more depth I think. Instead of having six or seven guys that are really good, we'll have four or five more guys that would have never gotten any reps or never gotten a chance with the pads and pressure on their shoulders of having to get it done. These guys have stepped it up and now we have more to work with."

Fall is where the offense will have a chance to reassert itself once again, but according the Cameron Jensen, this defensive unit will continue to master what they have learned over the summer in preparation for the upcoming challenge in fall camp.

"I don't know how much we're going to put into the defense in the fall but we have our base in," said Jensen. "We have everything we need right now going into a game I think. We just need to master what we have right now this spring and in the summer and every team is doing it without coaches. We don't want to be a team that falls behind and we'll step up over the summer and get further ahead. Especially with this defense and how far along we are right now heading into fall camp is huge, so right now and over the summer it's just mastering what we have right now.

"It will be about just getting out there and talking about team assignments with the offense and watching a lot of film. It will be about watching film on similar defense like watching the Pittsburg Steeler's defense and just learning and becoming masters of this defense with what we currently have. I love this scheme and I live the type of players we have. We're so talented at linebacker and I'm excited about this defense."

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