Saluki defense will return nine starters

Saluki defense will return nine starters

By Tony McDaniel

The Saluki defense showcased its talent at full speed for the first time this spring.

SIU football is through its first week in full pads and Coach Dale Lennon said practice has gone well since the team has gone to full contact drills.

“It’s been a good week of practice,” he said. “We haven’t done anything live until today (April 2), but we’re all preparing for Saturday where we’ll do a full scrimmage. We’ll have a lot of different game like situations in that scrimmage.”

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Saturday marked the first time this spring the team got a chance to run through situations they may see in the fall.

In Saturday’s scrimmage, the Salukis put their depth at tailback on display. Returning juniors Ken Malcome and Malcom Agnew combined for 60 yards and a touchdown on the ground, while redshirt freshman Cameron Walter led all rushers with 46 yards on 10 carries.

At quarterback, juniors Mark Iannotti and Matt Vincent were equally impressive. Iannotti was 9 -14 with 112 yards and a touchdown through the air.

Vincent completed five of his eight passes for 78 yards and two touchdowns.

The defense played well in Saturday’s scrimmage, as anticipated. The Salukis bring back nine starters this season, but will have a new coach calling plays from the sideline.

Lennon will add defensive coordinator to his list of duties for 2014 in place of Bubba Schweigert, who accepted the head coaching position at the University of North Dakota. This will not be Lennon’s first time calling the plays on defense. He held the defensive coordinator position at North Dakota from 1990-96.

Lennon said his defensive style differs from Schweigert’s philosophies.

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“The concepts are going to be similar, but you might see some different movements up front, that’s probably the biggest thing,” he said. “If we can get pressure with four-man type rushes then we want to be able to do that. That will be able to create more turnovers.”

One player who will be a part of the pass rush will be junior defensive end Kitray Solomon. Last season was Solomon’s first year at SIU, but that did not stop him from recording eight quarterback hurries, second best on the team behind senior linebacker Bryan Presume.

Solomon prides himself on his pass-rushing ability and said he is having a lot of fun playing in Lennon’s defense.

“The play calling he’s got in is tremendous, we get to do a lot of things,” he said. “Last year, we didn’t get to pair rush that much, but this year its all about pairs rushing off the edge.”

One of the nine players the Salukis will bring back is junior outside linebacker Tyler Williamson; one of the team captains last season. In 2013, Williamson brought down the ball carrier 66 times and finished with four sacks, which tied for the team-lead.

Lack of depth for the Salukis is not an issue when it comes to linebackers. The Dawgs will return seven linebackers who played in at least 10 games last season including Williamson.

Williamson said he preached to his fellow defenders to be consistent every day.

“I’m big on consistency and finishing plays,” he said. “Everyday you’ve got to come to work and do the same things. You’ve got to prep yourself the same way for every game. You have to set yourself up to do as well as you can.”

While the Salukis can boast a strong defensive front seven, their secondary will have to step up. SIU was 39th last year in total defense, but ranked 89th nationally in passing yards allowed.

One of the players returning from last year’s secondary is junior strong safety D.J. Cameron. Cameron’s 58 tackles ranked third on the team, and his two interceptions were tied for first with fellow junior Anthony Thompson. Cameron had two tackles and one interception in the scrimmage Saturday.

Cameron said the new secondary coach David Elson is doing his part to turn around the SIU defensive backfield.

“We need to improve in our cover skills,” Cameron said. “Our new coach, he’s helping with that we’re working on techniques, so once you get your technique down everything else will fall into place.”

The Saluki defense will get their first test at 7 p.m., April 18 at Saluki Stadium when they face their teammates on offense in the annual Maroon and White game.

Tony McDaniel can be reached at [email protected], @tonymcdanielDE or at 536-3311 ext. 282

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