LAKE CHARLES – McNeese State has built its reputation as being a defensive power over the years not only in the Southland Conference but in all of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).
Despite ranking in the top three in the league in scoring defense (3rd at 25.1 ppg) and total defense (3rd at 331.6 ypg) in 2011, the Cowboys ranked tied for last in the league ant 108th in the nation in sacks and was also second to last in the Southland in red zone defense.
Since spring training, defensive coordinator Mike Collins said the defense is back on track to being what people are accustomed to, and that's a physical, dominant defense.
"We had a great summer," said Collins who is entering his 12th season, fifth since 2008, on the Cowboys staff. "It carried over from the off season. The repetitions in the 7-on-7 drills our kids did all summer long were outstanding. Their knowledge got better and better. They were able to help each other out, ask questions, and if certain things happened they would come ask. I think that was a big plus for us.
"As we headed into camp, we were way ahead. We've got some experience in the back end and we have a lot of depth up front in both the defensive line and linebackers. We've got a lot of guys competing hard for playing time. Anytime you have that kind of competition you're going to be a much, much better football team."
Holding down a big defensive front four will be senior preseason All-Southland selection Pat Williams next to junior Michael Ware. Also expected to make an impact at the tackle spot are sophomores Sean Brown and Kevin Dorn.
On the ends, returning starter Chris Loveless is being challenged in practice by senior Eric LeBlanc on the left side while sophomores Everett Ellefsen and Danyel Hunter make up the right side and senior linebacker Joe Narcisse will anchor the linebacker corps.
"The biggest focus for us is we wanted to go into this year needing to affect the quarterback," said Collins. Whether it's a 3-4-5-6 man rush, whatever it might be because we were 108th in the country in sacks last year. We have to be more affective in that category. We need to affect the quarterback period but only in getting the sacks but also with knockdowns and batted balls."
Senior All-American safety and Buck Buchanan Award candidate Malcolm Bronson is the heart and soul of the defense. His presence on the field automatically makes an impact. Returning starters Seth Thomas and Ford Smesny will help strengthen an already tough backfield.
"The leadership qualities that he (Bronson) has, number one, he practices hard every day," said Collins. "He's not only a vocal leader but he does a great job on the field. He's first in the drills and doesn't lead from the back. He's always in the front of the line, always the first on the field and the first one to do what he does, which is a huge plus. And it really rubs off on everybody. The energy he carries onto the field really motivates the rest of the guys. Anytime you have that type of leadership quality you have something going for you."
Collins has set some lofty but attainable goals for his defensive unit this season.
"Our number one goal always is to win. We'd like to hold our opponents to 13 points or less a ball game and we'd like to be in the 70 percent ratio on stopping teams on third down. We're also a tremendous amount of focus on our red zone defense this year."
In 2011, McNeese gave up 30 scores in 34 attempts in the red zone with 19 of thos scores being touchdowns.
"We're also shooting to hold our opponents to under 100 yards rushing per game."
The Pokes gave up 137.2 yards rushing last year.
Rumblings of the resurrection of the defensive unit named "Blue Wall" – the nickname of the dominant Cowboys defenses in the late 70s and mid-90s – have started to surface as the expectations of this year's squad are running high.
"The 'Blue Wall'... they were an outstanding defensive football team," said Collins. "We had another one in another era that was named the 'Blue Wall' again. I'd like to think that our guys are mature enough to handle any kind of compliments they get. We'll see. We like to think we're next 'Blue Wall'."
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