Editor’s note: This is the first in a series about the 2011 Bryant Hornets football team in advance of the season opener against Benton on Friday, Sept. 2.
By Rob Patrick
Some of the best defenses the Bryant Hornets have put on the field over the years were[more] almost built from scratch.
There seldom seems to be a lot of returning starters in the fold, yet the Bryant coaches always seem to develop a solid group.This year may be no different.
It’s partly because the staff, defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Steve Griffith, secondary coach John Wells and defensive line coach Brad Stroud, does such a good job of mixing in underclassmen as a season goes along and situations warrant.
For example, on the defensive line for the 2011 team, Tim Kelly and Michael Smith never started last season and Austin Dunahoo only did once. Yet all three played enough that, with their off-season work, they are primed to start this season. Kelly is a 6-2, 190-pound junior. Smith (6-0, 210) and Dunahoo (5-9, 211) are seniors.
“You know, by the time you get to be a senior, you’ve kind of learned the system,” noted Bryant defensive line coach Brad Stroud. “We only return three starters on defense so some of these guys will be learning on the job. If we can convey to them in practice what we want them to carry over to Friday night, that’ll be good. Everybody needs experience.
“But we have such a strong off-season program,” he noted. “We don’t do all the x’s and o’s all the time, naturally, but we do have spring football and they had 10 days to learn the system. Then there’s a lot of 7-on-7’s and team camps. We went to two or three of those.
“So, by the time we get to Aug. 1, when we start practice, they’ve got an idea of what’s going on from the beginning where, in the past, we haven’t had that,” Stroud said. “Now we’ve been at it for three weeks but really it’s the spring and summer that provide the building blocks that train these guys what to do and, maybe, get rid of some of that inexperience.”
There was extra training to do this off-season too. For years, the Hornets’ base defense has been a four-man front.
“We have kind of made a transition, committed to do our Zebra defense, which is a three front,” Stroud said. “We had more linebacker personnel so we’ve done that to take advantage of it. We now have a nose man and two four-techniques, basically.
“Kelly’s doing a very fine job on one side,” the coach mentioned. “(Monday, in a scrimmage against Pine Bluff suspended due to lightning) he did well. They closed, the guard blocks down. They’re looking at a veer block and he stepped in there and did well.
“Smith has been an interior tackle until this year so he had some growing pains to go through,” Stroud continued. “He’s coming along. He’s got the body. He’s smart. He’s holding down the other end. Both of them made some fine plays (Monday).
“Backing them up is Kaden Mills, who’s been a linebacker for Coach Griff (defensive coordinator Steve Griffith), and Kelton Shaw will see some time,” the coach added. “On the weakside behind Michael will be Jacob Powell. He’s a little bit raw but he can sniff those screens out and we’re hoping he can be a good pass rusher.”
Mills is a 5-8, 210 senior; Shaw is a 5-11, 175 senior; and Powell, a former running back, is a 5-10, 166 senior.
“In the middle, we have a true head-up noseman over the center,” Stroud explained. “Dunahoo is that guy along with Jared Koon. Koon can out-run Dunahoo quite a bit but Dunahoo’s got the experience. So I’m planning on letting those two share that position. Especially this time of year when it’s so hot, we want to run some troops out there and spell them.”
Koon is a 5-7, 215-pound junior.
“Of all of them, Kelly has probably logged the most time out there,” Stroud mentioned.
“Their asset’s going to have to be speed,” he said of the group. “As most folks know, most everybody’s offensive line is huge. So we’re going to have to be fast and quick guys. That’s kind of the way we’ve been most of the time anyway through the years. We’ll miss the size of (Josh) Hampton, James Kidd and Ronnie Maxwell. It’s nice to have that size. And we may, at times, borrow Cortez Williams to come over (from the offensive line). He’s 280 and he knows what to do because he was on defense last year.”
The four-man front will still be used in certain situations, Stroud acknowledged.
“We did a little bit Monday night but it’s not our base anymore,” he stated. “The three front is our base this year. The two linebackers that transferred in, I’m just thrilled that they’re here. They’re good boys and are coachable. Marshall Everett is going to be a player and Tyree Reese has a good motor. When we get in our four-front, the Bob linebacker (Reese) will become the one technique and the nose scoots over and becomes the three (technique).”
Everett, a 6-0, 220-pound senior who moved in after earning all-conference honors at Pulaski Robinson, will play the mike linebacker. Reese, who’s a 5-10, 225-pound junior, moved in from Little Rock Central.