Veteran-laden defense ready to go
New coordinator has nine starters back to key McDaniel's defense
WESTMINSTER, Md. - There will be only a very small learning curve for the McDaniel defense to overcome to have success in 2009. The group returns not only nine of its starters from last season but also has nine of its top 10 tacklers back for another campaign.
Even with two starting spots open, the Green Terror has players with experience ready to plug into those holes. The only question is where depth will come from and, specifically, which underclassmen will play the role of backup and push for playing time and potentially starting jobs.
The one key new piece is a new defensive coordinator. Mike Dailey will make his debut on the McDaniel sideline when the Green Terror opens the 2009 slate at home against St. Vincent on Sept. 5. Dailey has experience both at the college level and in the professional ranks, which - coupled with a veteran group on the field - could translate into the success everyone wants.
Most of the time a new defensive coordinator would likely bring in a new scheme, increasing the learning curve for the players. The veteran Dailey isn't most defensive coordinators, though.
"We didn't really change a lot of things when I came in," Dailey said. "The things they're used to doing are very sound and we're going to use the same terminology these guys are used to. I figure it's easier for one guy to adjust to new terminology than 11. We'll do a few different things but, for the most part, with this veteran group, it's going to be the things they're used to doing already."
For the second straight year, McDaniel returns its entire starting defensive backfield. Five players accounted for the 40 starts among defensive backs with three starting all 10 games at their respective positions.
Travis Wenrich (Wernersville, Pa./Conrad Weiser) and Chris Kolb (Keymar, Md./Francis Scott Key) are likely to reprise their roles as the starting cornerbacks while Aaron Slaughter (Baltimore, Md./Loyola) is expected to be back in the starting lineup at free safety. Ryan Blaser (Gaithersburg, Md./Einstein) and Patrick Desmond (Frederick, Md./Frederick) split the starts at strong safety and both return this year, once again battling for that starting spot.
Slaughter, a senior captain, finished second on the team a year ago with 79 tackles. He reached double figures in tackles five times, including a career-best 15 stops at Juniata on Oct. 4. He also grabbed one interception and had three pass breakups. As a junior, he recovered three fumbles.
Wenrich finished fourth on the squad with 50 tackles, hitting double digits for the first time in his career with 11 stops against Moravian on Sept. 13. Wenrich once again keyed the pass defense with a team-best 11 passes defended that included four interceptions.
Kolb held down the other corner, recording 30 tackles, two interceptions and three pass breakups. He also had two fumble recoveries against Dickinson on Sept. 27. Among those recoveries was a 20-yard return that set up the Green Terror offense inside the five-yard line with 1:33 to play for the game-winning touchdown. Kolb's play in that game earned him Centennial Conference (CC) Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Blaser finished with 40 tackles last year while Desmond registered 37 stops. The two split time at strong safety last season. Blaser's best game came in the form of a nine-tackle performance against Muhlenberg on Oct. 18 while Desmond's top showing was a 10-stop outing at Johns Hopkins on Nov. 15.
With a preseason All-American in the middle and experience on the outside, the linebackers are nearly as solidified as the secondary.
Senior captain Mike Weick (Holland, Pa./Penn Charter) will once again anchor the corps from the inside. Named to the second-team by Consecus Draft Services, Weick led the team and CC in tackles (12.3 tackles per game). His 123 stops were 44 more than any other player on the McDaniel defense. He also had 8.5 tackles for loss, two pass breakups and a forced fumble. He reached double figures in eight of the 10 games a year ago, including in each of the final seven games of the season. In that stretch, he recorded a career-best 18 stops at Juniata.
Junior Paul Smith (Woodlawn, Md./Western Tech) will likely reprise his role flanking Weick to the strong side. Starting all 10 games at outside linebacker, Smith finished third on the team with 57 tackles. He also nabbed two interceptions - both against eventual champion Muhlenberg on Oct. 18 - and broke up another four passes. He forced a fumble against Dickinson and recovered one at Juniata.
Tommy Prazenica (Frederick, Md./Frederick) is the leading candidate to fill the starting spot vacated by the graduation of Cory Briggs. Prazenica appeared in eight games in 2008 with 11 tackles and two pass breakups.
In 2008, the defensive line had the most questions of any position for McDaniel. Entering 2009, many of those questions are answered. With the loss of just one starter among the three down linemen, the Green Terror is confident the pieces are there to fill that position.
Sam Cox (Towson, Md./Towson) started all 10 games a year ago at the hybrid position and had the most tackles of any front-four starter. Cox finished with 41 stops, including 10 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He also recovered a fumble.
Mike Ford (Drexel Hill, Pa./Haverford Twp.) started all 10 games at the weak-side end and will likely reprise his role as a starting end in 2009. He finished with 21 tackles that included 3.5 sacks.
Albert Leech (Frederick, Md./Gov. Thomas Johnson) returns to his nose tackle position, where he started the first eight games last year. Leech finished with 28 tackles, including 1.5 sacks.
Bill Gerdes (Freehold, N.J./Colts Neck) and Jimmy Selfinger (Birdsboro, Pa./Daniel Boone) are among the returners with opportunities to earn the open starting job. Selfinger appeared in six games and had nine tackles while Gerdes made two stops in his six appearances.