"Sometimes when [the defense gets] out there and they're thinking too much…when you run a route on them, you can tell," said outside receiver Bryce Mahuika. "They'll be looking around like, ‘What do I do?' They're playing so hesitantly that you end up running right by them and making plays."
This season's Cougar defenders are visibly faster than they were last year. However, much of that speed has been neutralized due to the fact that there is a thinking and reacting element that is slowing them down.
"Coach Tidwell has told us that we are thinking too hard," said Doman. "He's told us to go out there and play and have fun, and to just do it as fast as you can and you'll make the plays that need to be made."
"There is still a little hesitancy on reads," said Coach Tidwell. "Kelly [Poppinga] has moved from outside to inside and every day I think he's getting his reads quicker and getting better. Markell [Staffieri] was injured all last year and he still has to get a little more physical and come downhill harder, but they're very reliable and won't make very many mistakes. These guys know the defense and just have to cut it loose right now and play more physical."
Once the interior of the defense begins to become more comfortable, the speed and physical potential of this defense will become very evident. Coach Tidwell cited Matt Bauman as an example of this, bringing up how the defensive scheme changed while Bauman was on a mission. As a true freshman, Bauman played in the old 3-3-5 scheme, but came home to the new 3-4 scheme.
"[Bauman has] learned this defense and is getting better every day as well," said Coach Tidwell. "Shawn Doman has [also] been battling and he'll get a lot of playing time this year."
The offense didn't reach the end zone once during Monday's scrimmage action. The linebackers put themselves into position quicker to make the plays needed. Grant Nelson and Chris Bolden rotated in with Bryan Kehl and David Nixon to provide defensive consistency from the outside linebacker position.
"Grant Nelson and Chris Bolden on the outside are doing well," said Coach Tidwell. "Grant Nelson is a little young but he's learning. Chris is going to be a great asset off the edge to us this year and he's going to be a really good player. He comes hard and there is no question about his physical play. He's a physical kid."
The speed at which the defense is reacting to the offense is also noticeable to some players on the offensive side of the ball. When the defense plays comfortably on the field, the offense has shown to have lesser success in moving the ball.
"The defense is an aggressive, run-to-the-ball, make-big-hits and make-plays mechanism," said Mahuika. "When they're just doing that they're making plays. Today when they came out they were a little more aggressive, which usually means they're getting over a few things and progressing.
"Usually when we come out and play aggressive we have the advantage on them and can make plays right away, but today we weren't able to have as much success against them. We had a few mistakes right away that kind of carried over throughout the period."
"Coach tells us the harder we play the better we'll be," said Shawn Doman. "If we are able to raise our intensity level, we'll beat the offense and keep them out of the end zone. That was something we wanted to do today and we did."
The experienced Cougar secondary displayed their man-on-man coverage skills on Monday, showing that when the secondary is healthy, they can be very effective. Kayle Buchanan and Ben Criddle, with Quinn Gooch and Corby Hodgkiss manning the middle, were able to compete against Austin Collie, Matt Allen, Michael Reed and Mahuika effectively.
"To our defense's credit, the DB's are very good at understanding what routes we run and making adjustments," said Mahuika. "If you run an out [route] on Kayle, the next time you run it, he's going to be aware of that and any kind of move. He's going to be a lot quicker to it than he was before. To their credit, they're pretty good at making those adjustments and remembering those things that usually happen on the move."
The Cougar offense got an earful from offensive coordinator Robert Anae after the defense shut out a very effective blue zone offense.
"[The blue zone is] where we want to be and when we get in there we usually have a very high percentage rate of getting the ball into the end zone," said Mahuika. "Today we didn't do that so we got chewed out a little bit by Coach Anae. He laid into us a little bit and usually it's well-deserved. We have to come out next time and do things a little better, and not let those previous things carry over onto the next time we go out there and perform on the field."