Improving the pass rush

GOBEARCATSDOTCOM
GOBEARCATSDOTCOM

GOBEARCATSDOTCOM

Sept. 24, 2008

(12:03 p.m.): Lamonte Nelms has been biding his time the past four years. After redshirting in 2004, the senior defensive end always was stuck behind somebody on the depth chart. He’s never had his chance to shine.

Last year, for instance it was Angelo Craig and Anthony Hoke – both of whom were among the Bengals final cuts, meaning they were thisclose to becoming NFL players – that were ahead of him. Yes, he finished third on the team with 4.5 sacks, more than Craig in fact, but Nelms wasn’t the defensive end having to carry the load.

This year, he was the end with the most experience, and with All-American Terrill Byrd and the experienced Adam Hoppel at defensive tackle and with a raw but athletic Connor Barwin on the other end of the line, he expected UC’s line to play like last year – one of the best in the Big East.

So, Nelms has waited – and bided – his time.

Problem is, every other team is waiting for him as well, and, since they remember UC’s ability to sack quarterbacks, they have game-planned accordingly.

Bearcats opponents, much of the time, have kept an extra running back to help protect the quarterback from UC’s pass rush, and as a result, the defensive line isn’t pressuring the quarterback as much as its players would like.

“Every time we get the chance to get a third down (stop), they’re nickel-and-diming us,” Nelms said. “They’re not throwing it long down the field. We’re not getting that four or five-second count. That’s why we’re not getting as much quarterback pressure. We have to stop getting schemed. We have to get out there and just keep working on our pass rush. It’s kind of difficult with play-action, and that’s what they’re doing. We made a reputation for ourselves.”

The solution? Let BK explain.

“It’s about playing a little bit better man and zone coverage,” BK said. “For us, it’s covering. We’re going to get to you. You’re not going to have all day back there. We just have to do better in coverage. It’s just one of those things. What do you want to do? Play everybody and bring cover-zero? I don’t think we need to. They’re deciding offensively that they’re going to give their guy plenty of time and keep an extra offensive player in there, so we have to adjust to it.”

 

 

While Nelms plays on the strong side, meaning he has to deal with the opponents’ tight end and whichever extra running back they’re using, he’s accumulated nine tackles (tied for ninth on the squad) and 1.5 for a loss. Meanwhile, Barwin, on the opposite end, is freed up to cause havoc, one reason he leads the conference with three sacks – he’s also tied for ninth in the country. Not that Nelms minds the glory Barwin receives for those noticeable plays.

“Every opportunity, I’ll help him get more sacks and we’ll help each other get more sacks,” Nelms said. “We’re the D-line; we stick together. It doesn’t matter who gets the sacks as long as we’re getting the sacks.”

I wondered if losing Craig and Hoke continues to have a big impact on this team. After all, players like that are difficult to replace. I asked linebacker Ryan Manalac about it.

“They definitely brought a lot of speed to that end position and got a little pressure to the quarterback, which we’re having problems with,” Manalac said. “It’s not just our defensive ends. It’s everybody up front, bringing pressure and rushing the passer and making it easier for the defensive backs to cover. I don’t know if it’s just them; but it’s our defensive pressure in general.”

Defensive line coach Keith Gilmore also talked about the experience Hoke and Craig brought to the team last season. Obviously for a converted tight end like Barwin, he simply doesn’t have that built-in knowledge.

“Just from experience, those guys played a lot more football,” Gilmore said. “A lot of the things they would see, they had seen before so they would react a little differently. With Connor, he’s a great athlete, but things are happening to him for the first time. He has a learning curve that’s a little bit different. I don’t think it will be an issue at all as we continue to progress through the season.”

Besides, Gilmore isn’t displeased with how the defensive line has played. Yes, it might look like the Bearcats aren’t getting much of a push against the opponents’ offensive line, but he’s not discouraged.

“At this point, we’re playing solid,” Gilmore said. “I would like to see us improve, especially in our pass rush. We have to get more pressure on the quarterback and come up with some big plays and more sacks. But I think we’re playing the run really well with the way our technique has been. We just have to translate that to third down situations, come up with some big plays and get after the quarterback a little bit.”

  • Also, check out the Akron Beacon-Journal’s Zips blog this week. Though if the author is referring to UC’s senior associate AD as “the great Mike Waddell” (emphasis mine), you really have to question his credibility.
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