Defense shows depth

By Gus Bode

Outside linebacker Blair Lane tries to break through a block by tight end Adam Fuehne during practice Tuesday behind Saluki Stadium. Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Medicine and Performance Lee Land said the team has sufficient speed and good health. The Salukis will kick off their season Saturday against the Redhawks at Southeast Missouri State University. Tony Jou | Daily Egyptian

A new season brings familiar faces for the Saluki defense.

The SIU football team has only two projected starters for the season-opener, both of whom didn’t see time on the field in 2010,  and the majority of the lineup has veteran experience. Some of the team’s younger players were put in new positions last season; however, it has added to the overall experience the team will take to the field Saturday.


In coach Dale Lennon’s press conference Monday, he said fans can expect to see an elevated number of players on the Saluki defense. He said depth to the defense is critical with the play style brought to the field, especially during the warmer temperatures.

“We like keeping fresh horses in there, bringing people in and out at all times and especially because you want to be fresh in the fourth quarter,” Lennon said. “That’s something that we’re going to emphasize this week, that we need to win the fourth quarter.”

While he doesn’t think there is added pressure this year, junior inside linebacker Joe Okon said it will be an important season for the defense to do its part because of the experience the roster has.

“We had a lot of young players last year that, if we didn’t have the injuries, they wouldn’t have been playing,” Okon said. “Across the board, everybody knows the scheme a lot better this year.”

In addition to the number of players who will return, the Salukis had six of its top 10 defensive playmakers return for the 2011 season.

In the 11 games in 2010, Okon finished with 71 tackles, the second best on the team. Recent NFL free-agent signee Stephen Franklin was the only Saluki to record more tackles in the season.  He finished with 76.

Of the few players who didn’t see significant playing time in the 2010 season, one is veteran safety Mike McElroy.


McElroy, who qualified for a redshirt in 2010 after receiving his medical hardship waiver from the NCAA, had a season-ending ankle injury in the Sept. 11 game against the University of Illinois. In the one and a half games he played last season, McElroy finished with nine tackles and one interception. He is currently sixth in SIU’s all-time interception leaders with 11, after he played a little more than three seasons.

McElroy returned to the field in the April spring scrimmage, and he itches to get back out on the field after nearly 12 months without real-game experience .

“For me, it’s kind of a knock-the-rust-off game,” McElroy said. “I haven’t seen anybody from another team in a calendar year, so I’m excited to get out there and move around with my teammates again.”

Chance Coda, 2010 all-conference player, said he has high expectations for the defense this season. Coda, a senior defensive end, said depth has continued to be an asset for the Saluki defense as much of it comes from the experience gained in 2010.

“The younger guys that got a lot of reps last year, it’s going to help them for games upcoming this year,” Coda said. “Also, getting guys back like Mike McElroy will definitely help us in our game plan this year.”