Bears hop­ing to get their pass rush back on track

Per­for­mance fell off last year from 2014’s record

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Ed­ward Lee

The Mor­gan State foot­ball team’s de­fense fin­ished 2015 ranked in the up­per half of the 11-team Mid-Eastern Ath­letic Con­fer­ence in to­tal yards and first downs al­lowed per game. But if there was one as­pect that irked de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Mike Fanoga, it was the unit’s in­abil­ity to con­sis­tently pres­sure op­pos­ing quar­ter­backs.

“Last sea­son, that was one of our weak­est ar­eas, and we’ve got to get bet­ter at it,” said Fanoga, who has been work­ing with new de­fen­sive line coach An­to­nio James on i mprov­ing the pass rush. “We were young last year, and we still have the same group. And now that we’ve got Coach James, he’s do­ing a tremen­dous job with the guys on the field work­ing on the pass rush. We’re fo­cused on and con­cen­trat­ing more on get­ting to the quar­ter­back.”

TheBears had just 23 sacks in10 games last fall, sixth in the MEAC. They still ranked sec­ond in the league in pass de­fense, giv­ing up just164 yards per game and 11 touch­downs through the air. But the sacks to­tal was a dra­matic drop from Wed­nes­day: Tow­son Thurs­day: Navy Fri­day: Mary­land On­line: Johns Hop­kins

“We’re go­ing to try to find ways to be cre­ative and con­fus­ing.”

the pro­gram-record 33 by the 2014 squad.

In ad­di­tion, last sea­son’s three sack lead­ers are gone. De­fen­sive end Dalonte Jenifer, who had a team-high 41⁄ sacks last sea­son and would have been a ju­nior this year, is aca­dem­i­cally in­el­i­gi­ble. Out­side line­backer Joel Scott (31⁄ sacks) and de­fen­sive end An­drew Mitchell (31⁄ sacks) have grad­u­ated.

“Those guys made a huge im­pact on the team,” said ju­nior Da­mare’ Whi­taker, whois mov­ing from out­side to in­side line­backer af­ter con­tribut­ing 21⁄ sacks last sea­son. “But new guys have to step up and take up the re­spon­si­bil­ity and do what they have to do. We’ve been putting in a lot of hard work in the pre­sea­son and dur­ing camp to pre­pare for the sea­son, and I know that my front line will take care of busi­ness and do what they have to do to get to the ball.”

In ad­di­tion to Whi­taker, Mor­gan will rely on re­turn­ing play­ers such as ju­nior nose tackle Jai Franklin, se­nior in­side line­backer Greg Gib­son and sopho­more out­side line­backer Malachi Wash­ing­ton to get af­ter the quar­ter­back.

The de­fense has also turned to James, who was a grad­u­ate as­sis­tant at Michi­gan, work­ing with the de­fen­sive line. Last fall, the Wolver­ines were tied for 35th in sacks in the Foot­ball Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion.

Franklin said James has in­structed the play­ers to use their hands to move a blocker out of po­si­tion or open a lane for a team­mate. Fanoga said James has also em­pha­sized rush­ing off the edge to com­ple­ment the team’s push from the in­te­rior.

“Ev­ery­thing is an em­pha­sis — from out­side to in­side,” Franklin said. “It’s a com­bi­na­tion of ev­ery­thing. You need a bull rush, you need a speed rush, you need power, you need spins. Ev­ery­thing goes with each other.”

The one com­po­nent last year’s de­fense missed from 2014 was a sack spe­cial­ist such as out­side line­backer Christo­pher Robin­son. The Dun­bar grad­u­ate set a school record for sacks in a sea­son with 15 two sea­sons ago.

Fanoga said Franklin, Whi­taker, Wash- in­g­ton and ju­nior de­fen­sive end Ay­o­deji Ag­be­lese can im­i­tate what Robin­son did. But he said the learn­ing will be grad­ual.

“We’ve just got to work on it,” Fanoga said. “It’s not one of those things that just hap­pens overnight. We’ve got to work on it con­stantly and be con­sis­tent in our moves.”

While he misses a team­mate like Robin­son, Whi­taker is con­fi­dent that a unitwide ap­proach to pres­sur­ing the quar­ter­back can be just as ef­fec­tive.

“We can do it as a team,” he said. “It can’t al­ways be just that one guy. Ev­ery­one should be able to get to the quar­ter­back and have great pass-rush­ing skills.”

The sense of ur­gency to re­fine the pass rush has been re­in­forced by in­terim head coach Fred Far­rier, who has chal­lenged his as­sis­tants to force quar­ter­backs to make hasty de­ci­sions.

“You don’t want a guy sit­ting back there and feel­ing like he’s got all day to let ev­ery­thing sort out,” Far­rier said. “We’re go­ing to try to find ways to be cre­ative and con­fus­ing. It needs to be or­ga­nized chaos where you’re play­ing with a pur­pose and play­ing with some tough­ness. Any time those guys on the other side of the ball drop back to pass against us, there needs to be an un­easi­ness that they know that some­body is

In­terim coach Fred Far­rier

com­ing from some­where, and we want them think­ing about that.

“So those guys de­fen­sively, I think, will do a great job mix­ing up what we do and try­ing to find ways to put pres­sure on the quar­ter­back. That’s been a point of em­pha­sis in the spring, and that’s the point of em­pha­sis now.”

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