Coastal Defense Off to Good Start
CONWAY - Through nine practices, the Coastal Carolina defense may have slight edge over the offense.
That probably does not come as a surprise as the offense is still learning a new system under interim head coach Jamey Chadwell and the defense returns six starters, versus three on offense. The front four and linebackers are living up to the notion that they would be a strength early this fall. However, Anthony Chesley is only returning starter among the defense backs.
"We are having a very good camp defensively," said Mickey Matthews, who is in his second season as CCU defensive coordinator. "Coach Moglia has a saying that Coastal `Will give 100 percent effort, 100 percent of the time.' That is what we are really trying to concentrate on right now. Of course we continue to work on fundamentals, but we are giving them a lot to absorb as we are trying to be more multiple this season. That is slowing our progress a little, but overall I like the direction we are headed."
"Shane (Johnson) is doing a really nice job leading the defense and I really like our corners, Anthony (Chesley) and Dontay (Hears)," Matthews added. "We are fairly young across the board, we do not have a lot of seniors and we are still looking for some guys to be leaders for us."
The front four will be led by a pair of disruptive ends in Marcus Williamson and Myles White. Williamson had nine tackles for loss last season and White added 6.5 while the pair has combined to block seven kicks during their careers.
While the defensive line lost tackle Jabarai Bothwell's 22 career tackles for loss, senior Dwayne Price is back for a second year as a starter and junior Ja'ree Tolbert, who has been the primary back-up to both Bothwell and Price, is poised to make the jump to a starter this season. Like so many other positions on this year's team, the depth along the defensive will be provided by a host of young, talented players including redshirt freshmen C.J. Brewer (tackle), Jonathan Clayton (tackle) and Tarron Jackson (end). Jackson played in four games last season before suffering a season-ending injury and Clayton was the Chant Squad (scout team) Defensive Player of the Year last fall -- an honor White, Tolbert and Shane Johnson have won in the past.
"Marcus (Williamson) had a terrific off-season but he has been slowed a little during camp with an injury," Matthews said. "Myles (White) and Tarron (Jackson) have been playing great. I feel really good about our ends. We need to get a little better at the tackle positions and we are very young there. So many ends playing well right now, we could move one to tackle to provide depth."
The linebacker corps lost Alex Scearce, who is with the Chicago Bears presently and may have had the most productive season in CCU history last fall. However, Johnson will anchor the unit after ranking second on the team in tackles last season. Sophomore Laqavious Pau started two games last season as a true freshman while Johnson was injured and had a team-best nine tackles in the Florida A&M win. Paul will move to the outside this fall and redshirt freshman Silas Kelly will look to fill the void left by Scearce.
Senior Kerron Johnson has tallied 91 career tackles, second only to Johnson for most among this year's team, and Jarius McMillan has played in 23 career games, one of just nine Chants on the defensive side of the ball with at least 20 career game played. Several true freshmen could step in and see action this season.
"Playing against this offense everyday has really helped me personally," Johnson said. "Even though we have more continuity and experience than the offense, you really have to be disciplined on every snap. I find out quick if I make a false step or bad read. They make us really concentrate hard in film sessions and we have to stay on top of our playbook."
The secondary's inexperience and lack of depth were to concerns about this defense entering the season. Chesley and Dontay Hears have used their experience -- combined 56 games and 16 career passes defended -- give CCU some stability on the outside. Junior college transfer Mallory Claybourne, who has been limited during camp due to an injury, and sophomore Preston Carey are looking to provide immediate help while additional depth is developed.
The loss of Richie Sampson and C.J. Thompson -- with 344 combined career tackles -- has left a big hole at the safety positions. Those needing to step up with seniors Eric Church and Nicholas Clark will be juniors Fitz Wattley, who moved from linebacker this past spring, and Allen Hall; junior college transfer and sophomore Jave Brown; last year's quarterback and sophomore Ryan Lee; and redshirt freshmen Amir Howard and Calvin Smith.
"There is a lot of competition at safety," Matthews said. "Those guys have been playing well and I like what (assistant coach) Curt (Baldus) is doing with the group. There is a big battle and if we had to play right now, I don't know if I could tell you who would start."