Bears hoping to get their pass rush back on track
Performance fell off last year from 2014’s record
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.”