Being on the Defensive: Coach likes prospects among linemen, linebackers

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY, News-Telegram Sports Editor

Aug. 14, 2008 - Wildcat defensive coordinator Matt Young came into two-a-day practices knowing he had to find five new starters to fill out his front seven.

From what he has seen in practice so far, he thinks he's found more than enough.

Young, in his first year at Sulphur Springs, has just one starting defensive lineman (Colton Nash) and one starting linebacker (Dillon Verner) back from last year. That means there is an open competition for the remaining spots.

"We've said all along that we need 22 starters on defense," Young said. "We've got a lot of guys we're rolling through there because we need to be fresh, and at the same time, it's pushing competition. They don't want to let up. They are going to push their limits and get better."

It's no surprise that the Wildcats are focusing on stopping the run. That's the trademark of any sound defense, and it starts with the front seven.

Along with Nash and Verner, defensive tackle Ryan Miller and outside linebacker Jayden Wallace are the only two full-time lettermen back from last year. However, Young has been happy with what he's seen from last year's crop of JV players.

Defensive ends Kedrick Dial, Jameison Dial and Cody Rushin are providing depth on the side opposite Nash. In the middle, Miller is out for up to two weeks with a shoulder injury, which has given more practice reps to Demarcus Reeves, J.B. Beachem, Tadarius Johnson (who all played JV last year) and transfer Fred Gilstrap.

"We've had some kids step in that we knew were coming, and we've had a couple of additions," Young said. "What's nice is that instead of finding four up front, we feel like we've found seven or eight."

No matter who starts, Young expects to have a steady rotation to keep players fresh.

The Wildcats have the same situation at linebacker, where Verner, Tyler Higginbotham, Jimmy Villa and Diquince Morris are all vying for playing time in the middle. At outside backer, Wallace and Jocko Spataro are both getting a lot of reps.

"We don't really say 'ones' and 'twos' - we have the first group and the next group, because the next group's energy really pushes that first group," Young said of the entire defense. "At any time, you may see a different 11 on the field because of what they're doing.

"Up front, we're not where we want to be yet, and we keep reinforcing that we've got to continue to get better, but we're real pleased with those guys."

The secondary is more settled, where Johnny McSheffery and Bryant "Day Day" Jackson are both returning starters at safety and Darrell Franklin is a two-year starter at cornerback. The other corner appears to be between Keiston Clayton and Anthony Mills.

All of those positions will become clearer the next two weeks when the Wildcats scrimmage Greenville on Saturday, then have their final preseason scrimmage against Terrell on Friday, Aug. 22.

"This week, I got to see them in pads for the first time, and it was nice," said Young. "Saturday's going to be exciting for me.

"We're just looking for the ability to line up and see who's going to make plays. Some guys get better when they get out there in front of a crowd against an opponent, and some other guys tend to be a little more hesitant."

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