Line looks to become more of a factor on defense
If you hear something about rushing the passer around the Grand Valley State University football staff, normally from head coach Matt Mitchell, chances are you’re going to hear the phrase “pin their ears back.”
It’s football cliché – it defines a reckless abandon to get into the backfield and make a play – but it’s something the defensive line found itself doing throughout the second half of last week’s win over Western Oregon University.
That kind of smart effort may have taken a half of play to find the field, but that kind of play is what the defensive-minded Mitchell likes to see.
“I think it was one of those deals where we had a couple guys out there playing significant reps for the first time on our d-line and it just took a little while to get into the flow of the game,” Mitchell said of his line on Saturday. “Once (Western Oregon) had to pass it because we had a two-score lead, our defensive line could pin their ears and that’s probably where we’re best at – getting pressure on the quarterback.”
Inexperience is something unfamiliar in recent years on the defensive line. Last season, seniors Danny Richard and Andre Thomas led a defensive line that was the strength of the defense, even after Richard’s season was cut short by a knee injury.
Now, that line doesn’t have the same star power or on-field experience, but as returning starter and lone senior Ryan Pettis said, experience is important but so is the talent on the field.
“(Being a senior) is really important. I definitely think we’ve got a lot of talent,” said Pettis, who recorded two sacks last season. “Some of these guys have been in this program three, four years so we’ve got a lot of experience and talent, we just need to put the pieces together.”
The pieces, lineman like sophomore Matt Judon and juniors Denzel Rodgers and Hunter Charneski, will come together as those reps continue.
Judon, in his first career start Saturday, was a big part of the Lakers second-half shutout. His teardown sack and 41-yard interception return for a touchdown of quarterback Cody VonAppen were plays that showed what the young lineman are capable of when they erase what Mitchell called erratic play.
“We all came here to play football, so obviously sitting out for a couple years it just rejuvenates that feeling,” Judon said. “You just want to get out there that first game and get your feet under you a little bit and after that it just comes down to playing football.”
At the end of the day, the line uses that competition to help them improve. Mitchell has repeated it constantly, this defense isn’t a finished product, but as the line continues to improve, and both veterans and young players improve, there will be a lot more pinning back of the ears.
“It’s the same thing, at the end of the day I’m just playing football, just trying to do whatever I can to help this team win and put our team in the best situation possible,” Pettis said. “We’re just focused on getting better and competing with each other; right now, we’re just trying to do our assignments and make sure that we know how to do our jobs correctly.”