2004 Broncos Defensive Preview

With the start of the 2004 college football season less than a month away and 105 student-athletes reporting to training camp on Sunday, August 8 the Western Michigan University Broncos prepare to answer a couple of questions on defense. With the Broncos first game of the season on September 2 against Tennessee-Martin the Broncos look to fill some really big shoes.

Following the 2004 season the Broncos lost four starters to graduation; defensive end Jason Babin, defensive tackle Jonathan Jones, cornerback Willie Pope and weak safety Jason Feldpausch. With Babin now playing for the Houston Texans of the NFL, the Broncos look to fill the hole that he left behind.

Defensive coordinator J.C. Harper is in his second year with the Broncos and his first year as the Broncos defensive coordinator. It will be his task to ensure that the Broncos don't miss a beat defensively as well as to shore up the teams tackling ability. Last season the Broncos held just one team to less than 20 points and that was in the Broncos 31-3 win over Eastern Michigan University. Most of the Broncos problems on defense last season were due to missed tackles. Against Michigan State the Broncos missed tackles on three pass plays that resulted in touchdowns of 50, 59, and 21 yards. Against William & Mary the Broncos gave up a 26-yard touchdown pass to start the scoring. Throughout the season last year the Broncos defense missed a lot of first, second and even third tackles that resulted in huge scoring plays or gave their opponents great field position.

The Broncos defense has traditionally been among the national leaders in the college football world but last year slipped in their rankings. The Broncos allowed 30.8 points per game ranking them 86th in the country. The Broncos allowed an average of 179.7 rushing yards per game resulting in a ranking of 83. They also gave up 245.2 passing yards per game making them the 87th best passing defense out of 117 teams. The Broncos ranked 90th in the country in total defense giving up 424.8 yards per game.

So where do the Broncos go from here? Can the Broncos not only replace Babin and Feldpausch and at the same time bring back the powerful defense that Bronco fans have gotten used to? These are all questions that are yet to be answered but the Broncos are confident they can get back to the form they once had in making their two appearances in the MAC Championship games in 1999 and 2000.

Not only does Coach Harper have a task in front of him to get the Broncos 4-2-5 defense back to the dominating ways it once was, but he is also the defensive line coach. He finds himself making sure the defensive line doesn't miss a beat with the departure of Babin.

Defensive Ends

Last season's one-two duo of Babin and senior Jack Gitler (6'2", 254) combined for 203 tackles, 22 sacks and 52 tackles for loss. Gitler, a graduate of Berkley High School in Berkley Michigan, recorded 88 tackles (57 solo, 31 assisted), 19 of his tackles were for a loss of 65-yards. He recorded 7 sacks for 36-yards, one interception, three recovered fumbles and one forced fumble.

Gitler will be backed up by senior Nick Melcher, a three year letter winner from Oak Forest, Illinois. Melcher (6'3", 250) recorded 24 tackles in 2003. He had four tackles for a loss of 21-yards and three sacks for a loss of 20-yards.

On the other side at right defensive end is where the main battle will take place during training camp starting this week. Fort Lauderdale, Florida native senior Ernest Osborne (6'5", 230) is considered the favorite to take over following the departure of Babin. Osborne played in all 12 games last season but saw limited action only because it was almost impossible for the Broncos to get Babin off the field. Osborne recorded 20 tackles last season, two of which were sacks for a loss of 9-yards. He also forced one fumble and recovered a fumble.

Junior Anthony Belmonte (6'2", 235) came to Western Michigan University from Warrenville South High School in Wheaton, Illinois. Belmonte will be pushing Osborne during camp to try to secure the starting position. During the 2003 season Belmonte recorded 36 tackles including two for a loss of 3-yards.

Defensive tackle

If anyone on the team could be considered a utility player that person would be senior Eric Oleson (6'3", 249). Oleson was recruited out of Brodhead High School in Brodhead, Wisconsin as a linebacker. Following the 2002 season he was moved to tight end but with the depth of the tight end position the Broncos had a need for a strong athlete at defensive tackle. Oleson was moved in the sixth week of the 2003 season as a backup for now graduated Jonathan Jones. Oleson returns as the starter after recording 15 tackles last season.

Backing up Oleson will be redshirt junior Joe Alvarez (6'1", 248). Alvarez joined the Broncos out of Central High School in Naperville, Illinois. In 2003 he recorded just four tackles in five games.

Nose Guard

Last season redshirt junior Paul Moersch (6'4", 291) started 11 games for the Broncos at nose guard. The Schaumburg, Illinois native recorded 38 tackles; five tackles for a loss of 14-yards including two sacks for 6-yards.

Senior Greg Bryant (6'0", 292) a junior college transfer from Merced College in Merced, California came to the Broncos last season and earned his letter. Bryant who is originally from Edmond, Oklahoma recorded 13 tackles last season including one tackle-for-loss. Bryant will start the season as the backup for Moersch but should expect to see some considerable playing time throughout the season.

Linebackers

Entering the 2003 season the major question for the Broncos defense was how would the relatively young and inexperienced linebackers perform. That question was answered in the first game of the season against the Michigan State Spartans when redshirt sophomore Paul Tithof (6'1", 215) was forced into action due to an injury. This season first year linebackers Coach Bob Diaco is welcomed to the Broncos coaching staff with a strong group of athletes. Tithof, originally from Oakley, Michigan and a graduate of Chesaning High School immediately made his presence felt and started the final 11 games of the season. His 88 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss of 31 yards, one sack, one interception, two fumbles recovered and one forced fumble earned him Sporting News First Team Freshman All-America honors.

With Tithof's performance last season senior Dan Steinau (5'11", 217) a junior college transfer from Orange Coast Junior College, looks to maintain his backup duties but will also challenge Tithof for the starting position. Last season Steinau contributed 30 tackles for the Broncos including one tackle-for-loss and a forced fumble.

The other starting linebacker position was earned during the 2003 season by senior Mike Giorgianni (6'0", 220) another junior college transfer who signed with the Broncos during the summer of 2003 out of West Valley College. Giorgianni played in ten games last season, started nine and missed two games due to an injury. In the ten games he appeared in Giorgianni recorded 52 tackles, 8 tackles for a loss of 14-yards, one sack, one interception and one forced fumble.

Backing up Giorgianni will be redshirt junior Josh Behrens (6'1", 248). Behrens joined the Broncos after completing his high school career out at Grandville High School in Grandville, Michigan. Behrens was expected to be the starter last season but he missed the entire season due to an injury.

Cornerbacks

Some of the fastest players on the team for the Broncos if they are not wide receivers they can be found at the cornerback position. With the departure of Willie Pope and the limited experience of this years group of cornerbacks, the Broncos and first year cornerbacks Coach Van Malone have made some changes.

Sophomore DeRae Allen (5'10", 184) returns as the lone starting cornerback. Allen, a graduate of Lovejoy High School in Lovejoy, Georgia earned his first letter after a shaky start to the 2003 season. Allen finished the season with 24 tackles playing in 11 games and starting in six of those games.

With the lack of depth at the cornerback position the Broncos moved some of their safeties to cornerback this off-season. Backing up Allen is redshirt sophomore Chad Feldpausch (5'11", 190). Feldpausch, a graduate of Fowler High School in Fowler, Michigan was moved from weak safety to cornerback. Last season he saw action in 12 games but mainly on special teams. He recorded 9 tackles.

The most noticeable change at the cornerback position will be the addition of senior Scott Robinson (5'11", 189) who was moved from the starting strong safety position. Robinson, an Ypsilanti, Michigan native, recorded 82 tackles last season. Robinson had 16 tackles for a loss of 52-yards, three sacks for 17-yards, two interceptions and one forced fumble.

Redshirt sophomore Jimmie Vincent (5'9", 186) will be pushing Robinson and will be trying to take away the starting position. Vincent, a graduate of Glades Central High School in Belle Glade, Florida played in seven games last season. Vincent recorded 14 tackles.

Safeties

With the Broncos moving Robinson to cornerback not only do they and first year safeties Coach Clayt Birmingham have to replace the graduated Jason Feldpausch at weak safety but they also must replace Robinson at strong safety.

The only starting safety that returns this season for the Broncos is free safety redshirt junior Kevin Ford (5'11", 197). Ford, a graduate of Sexton High School in Lansing, Michigan, provides a powerful presence in the Broncos secondary. During the 2003 season Ford ranked second in team defense behind Babin. He recorded 111 tackles, one tackle-for-loss which was also his only sack, three interceptions, one fumble recovery, and one forced fumble.

Brett Stewart (6'0", 187), a sophomore out of Brighton, Michigan will back up Ford at free safety. Stewart appeared in five games for the Broncos last season recording 3 tackles.

Replacing Robinson at strong safety is sophomore Darrell Copeland (6'1", 208) a graduate of Jonesboro High School in Jonesboro, Georgia or senior Shawntey Lopez (6'0', 187). Lopez is a junior college transfer from West Valley Junior College in California. Lopez missed all of last season due to a foot injury sustained in training camp last August. Copeland recorded 17 tackles last season.

One question for the Broncos is how do you replace the teams Most Valuable Player? Well, that is the task at hand for the Broncos. With the graduation of two-time team MVP Jason Feldpausch the Broncos are looking for someone to step up at weak safety. The Broncos have two student-athletes in mind. Senior Mark Hardy (6'1", 188) and redshirt freshman Oseloka Keys (6'2", 197). A graduate of Harold L. Richards high school in Robbins, Illinois, Hardy is the likely candidate to start at weak safety. Hardy started in two games last season while Jason Feldpausch was nursing an injury. Hardy played in all 12 games and recorded 29 tackles, one tackle-for-loss and one fumble recovered. Keys recruited out of Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan where he starred as a quarterback was moved to weak safety during the off-season.

National Pre-Season Honors

Phil Steele's 2004 Top Position Players

Jack Gitler – Top 64 Defensive Ends (62)
Paul Tithof – Top 62 Inside Linebackers (42)

Phil Steele's 2004 MAC Team

Jack Gitler – 1st Team
Paul Tithof – 1st Team

Street & Smith's

Jack Gitler – All-MAC Team

Athlon Sports 2004 All-MAC Team

Jack Gitler – First Team

2004 Defensive Recruits

Brian Bell, SS – Bell was recruited out of Prospect High School in Mount Prospect, Illinois. Bell was the first recruit in the 2003-2004 recruiting season to verbally commit to the Broncos. He starred in high school as a running back, receiver, linebacker and kicker. While rushing for 774 yards, he caught 21 passes for another 330 yards and 15 touchdowns and converted five field goal attempts. His efforts earned him an All-Mid-Suburban League selection.

Zach Davidson, DE – The Broncos continued to recruit against the "big boys" stealing Davidson away from Colorado, Purdue, Ball State and Northern Illinois. Davidson comes to Western Michigan University out of Washington Park High School in Racine, Wisconsin where he starred at defensive end and tight end. 20 of his 72 tackles went for a loss and he also recorded 24 sacks that raised his career total to 54 sacks. Davidson is a two-time All-State selection as well as being named conference Defensive Player of the Year recipient twice in his high school career. On offense Davidson recorded 252 yards with 12 pass receptions.

Andy Endemann, DT – It has taken Endemann a few years but he has finally met transfer requirements to be able to join the team this season. Endemann originally signed a National Letter of Intent a couple of years ago as a junior college transfer from the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California. Due to a change in the credit system at the College of the Canyons Endemann couldn't join the team so he transferred to Kalamazoo Valley Community College. In the process of meeting all of the eligibility requirements, Endemann lost a year of eligibility and joins the Broncos as a senior this season. In two seasons with the College of the Canyons Endemann recorded 20 solo tackles and 8 sacks. He was also named an All-Western State Conference selection.

Cory Flom, DT – Flom comes to the Broncos from Prior Lake, Minnesota. Flom is a versatile defensive and offensive lineman where he played high school ball at the Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield, Minnesota. He was selected All-Conference and named to the All-Minneapolis Metro Second Team as well as named to the Minnesota Vikings All-State Team. He was selected as the 2003 Academy of Holy Angels Most Valuable Player.

Scooter McIntosh, CB – McIntosh will without a doubt become a fan favorite throughout his career as a Bronco. McIntosh was recruited out of McHenry High School in McHenry, Illinois where he starred as a running back and cornerback. In 2003 McIntosh's 1,035 rushing yards and his 804 yards on 38 pass receptions along with his 13 touchdowns helped him earn All-State First Team honors as voted by the Coaches Association of Illinois. He was also selected as an honorable mention to both the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times All-State Teams. McIntosh set McHenry High School single game records with 188 rushing yards and 225 receiving yards. He also owns the school record for career catches with 85. McIntosh finished second in school history with 44 career touchdowns.

Seth Quivey, FS – Quivey joins the Broncos as a redshirt sophomore transfer from Bemidji State in Bemidji, Minnesota. Quivey's high school career was played at Saint Mary's Central High School in Bismarck, North Dakota. In high school Quivey played at running back, wide receiver and free safety. He was named to the All-State Second Team as well as to the All-Conference First Team.

Cornelius Robinson, WS – Robinson played free safety, defensive end and tight end at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, Georgia. He was on the varsity squad all four years at Booker T. Washington. As a senior on defense Robinson recorded 76 tackles and 13 sacks to go along with the 237 yards on 12 catches he recorded on offense.

Blake Sims, CB – Sims enjoyed a senior season at Martin Luther King High School in Detroit, Michigan that saw his 40 tackles and five interception help him earn an All-City selection. His versatility as a cornerback, receiver and safety brought him attention from Boston College and WMU rival Toledo.

Nick Varcadipane, DE – Varcadipane is another versatile football player that also played various positions in high school. A native of Totowa, New Jersey, Varcadipane spent his high school career playing for Passaic Valley High School in Little Falls, New Jersey. Recruited as a defensive end Varcadipane also played tight end and linebacker. His 60 tackles, 10 sacks and six forced fumbles helped him earn a selection to the Associated Press All-State First Team. He was also selected as an All-Northern Hills Conference pick as a tight end. He was also selected to play in the Governor's Cup Game.

C.J. Wilson, CB – Wilson joins the Broncos after a stellar career as a cornerback, safety and quarterback at North Chicago High School in Chicago, Illinois. He was named the team's Most Valuable Player following the 2003 season and was named to the Chicago Sun-Times All-Conference team. While at North Chicago High School he enjoyed playing on two North Suburban Prairie Championship teams.

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