Coach brings changes to defense

By Tony McDaniel

Saluki football’s pass defense struggled in 2013, but looks to rebound in 2014.

SIU ranked 39th in the FCS in total defense last season, and 73rd in pass efficiency defense.

To help remedy the low rankings, SIU hired David Elson, a graduate assistant with Saluki football in 1994 and 1995, to coach the secondary.

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Elson said he didn’t watch any film on the Salukis from last season, because he wanted to form his own opinion of the defensive backs.

“I’m just trying to be aggressive,” Elson said. “Play a little, but more press coverage and be physical and nasty. The bottom line is we’ve got to be the last line of defense.”

Previously Elson had stints with Western Kentucky University where he was the head coach from 2003 to 2009.

In his time with WKU, he led back-to-back Football Championship Subdivision playoff appearances in 2003 and 2004. Elson was at the helm of Western Kentucky when the team was promoted to the Football Bowl Subdivision, the highest level of college football, in 2008.

Elson was fired from WKU in 2008 after the team went 2-22 through two seasons.

Elson said as a head coach, he learned the value of a good assistant coach, which will help him at SIU as an assistant.

“I’ve got my role, and I know the less I have to deal with the head coach the better I’m doing.”

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Elson said once he arrived, he realized he was coaching a talented group of players.

“As far as our travel number it’s 11 guys right now and I really feel comfortable with all 11 playing,” he said. “Now I feel more comfortable with others and that’s why they’re starting. It’s a day-to-day thing with the competition.”

The Salukis brought back five players from last year’s team including junior safety D.J. Cameron, who recorded 2 interceptions in 2013.

Cameron said the secondary has to improve fundamentally this season. He said they work on footwork drills each day in practice so they don’t get rusty.

“We’ve made a lot of improvements in the secondary,” he said. “We’re comfortable back there. We just read [the play] and plant [our feet].”

Elson said he repeats how critical looking at the correct player is for the secondary.

Since the Salukis are only returning five experienced players, there are opportunities for younger players to step into big roles.

Freshman safety Ryan Neal has already taken the opportunity to step into a bigger role. Neal made his first career start Saturday against Eastern Illinois University. Neal has recorded 12 tackles this season.

“We just felt like he was giving us a better chance,” Elson said. “He played well. He’s still making some mistakes, but we’re all making some mistakes.”

The Salukis are ranked 13th in passing efficiency defense through just two games. Elson said he thinks those stats may be skewed because of the game against Taylor University.

Senior cornerback Courtney Richmond said the defensive backs still have work to do, but they will keep getting better because that is all Elson will allow them to do.

“Coach Elson is drilling in our head to make plays and stay on your mental game,” he said. “It’s just all coming together.”

Tony McDaniel can be reached at [email protected]gyptian.com, @tonymcdanielDE or at 536-3311 ext. 256

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