While it has yet to develop the same name recognition as the Minnesota Vikings’ “Purple People Eaters” of the 1970s, the Tribe’s “Green Swarm” defense was firing on all cylinders Saturday afternoon at Zable Stadium.
The nickname, coined by the players themselves, embodies the unit’s new attitude toward playing defense.
“Ferocious, vicious, high intensity, very enthusiastic, flying to the ball,” senior cornerback Derek Cox said.
The defense showcased these qualities as the Tribe finished up spring practice with its annual intrasquad Green and Gold scrimmage, which pits the offensive and defensive units against each other.
“I thought today the defense really stepped up pretty good,” Head Coach Jimmye Laycock said. “They have been getting better and better as the spring has gone on.”
Junior defensive lineman C.J. Herbert set the tone on the scrimmage’s opening play, sacking senior quarterback Jake Phillips. Senior linebacker Todd Reyher also got in on the action, recording two sacks on the day. Junior safety Robert Livingston and senior safety Kevin Allen each came down with an interception.
Laycock called the offense’s performance “sporadic,” as the unit displayed inconsistency throughout the afternoon. Phillips, his starting spot secure, only played for a couple of series, finishing 4 of 8 for 40 yards and an interception. Junior quarterback R.J. Archer saw the rest of the first-team action and looked sharp throughout, completing nine of his 18 passes for 131 yards, including a 50-yard bomb down the left sideline to senior wideout Elliot Mack.
The Tribe offense showcased some new spread sets and option-running plays. Laycock said that the option-rushing attack is something that he is considering using next year, but he’s unsure if he will institute it once the regular season begins next fall.
“I’m looking to try to get some more speed on the field,” Laycock said. “That’s really what I want to do.”
Two of the Tribe’s quickest players, senior tailback DeBrian Holmes and sophomore tailback Courtland Marriner, missed the scrimmage due to injury, leaving the rushing offense without two of its biggest weapons.
Archer, who was the Tribe’s second-leading receiver last season, will enter the fall as the team’s second-string quarterback. Laycock told Archer following last season that he wanted him to switch back to quarterback (a position at which he had previously spent time), because the team needed a reliable backup behind Phillips. Though backing up Phillips meant he might give up significant playing time as receiver, Archer was willing to take the assignment.
“I said [to Laycock], ‘Whatever is best for the team, I’ll do,’” Archer said.
Following the scrimmage, Cox, Mack, Phillips and senior linebacker Josh Rutter were named team captains for the 2008 season. Phillips and Rutter were given John A. Stewart Winter Warrior awards for their offseason improvements on the field and in the weight room.
The story of the day, however, was the way the defense — a unit that was among the worst in the conference last season — went up against an offense that last year scored nearly 30 points per game.
“I’m sure everybody came out here expecting fireworks from the offense,” Cox said. “For us to step up the way we did definitely assured some people of what we really are capable of.”
Cox said that the defense, which returns 10 of 11 starters, benefits from the experience of playing together last year, which allows for the tenacity one would expect from a unit that calls itself “The Green Swarm.”
“There’s a chemistry that we have on the defense,” Cox said. “Rather than thinking out on the field, we can just go play ball.”