Football: New line of defense

__Bob Shoop takes over as defensive coordinator for the Tribe__

Last year’s football season was a disappointment for the Tribe, as the College struggled to one of their worst records, 3-8, in Head Coach Jimmye Laycock’s 27-year tenure at the helm.

On the defensive side of the ball, the College labored through a season plagued by injury and inconsistency. Despite sporting the second best turnover margin in the Atlantic 10, the defensive unit allowed the third-most rushing yards per game in the conference and ranked second-to-last in total defense. In addition to this, the Tribe failed to show signs of improvement throughout the year, exhibiting a Jekyll and Hyde routine from game to game, and sometimes even quarter-to-quarter, that would eventually lead to the dismissal of Coach Matt McLeod as the defensive coordinator.

p. With the specter of consecutive losing seasons and the departure of six defensive starters looming over the Tribe entering the off-season, Coach Laycock went on the hunt to hire a new defensive coordinator to help reinvigorate the unit. His choice was former Columbia University Head Coach Bob Shoop.

p. “This is the first time in a while we had really gone outside the staff [in hiring a new coordinator],” Laycock said. “I wanted to find someone who had experience as a coordinator and had coached in the secondary as well. We really took our time and we looked at a lot of people. [Coach Shoop] brings us a lot of different things.”

p. Shoop arrived on campus near the end of winter workouts and immediately set out to develop a rapport with the players.
“When he first came here, while he had to be focused towards football, Coach Shoop took an interest in meeting each of us individually,” junior cornerback Derek Cox said. “You could meet with him wherever you wanted to. We got to know him on a personal level; he got to meet us on a personal level.”

p. This approach has helped Shoop make an immediate impact on the defense, which is evident in the team’s spring practices.

p. “It’s just amazing the way he came in here with a set plan of what he wanted to accomplish,” sophomore defensive end Adrian Tracy said. “He knew what we did in the past and he knew the personnel and where they best fit in our new defense for what we are going to do.”

p. “He’s very energetic and intense,” Cox said. “He doesn’t come off as fiery but on the field he is intense. He’s a very good coach and I like his style, his technique. A lot of things that he does are rubbing off on the players…things are definitely moving in a positive direction so far.”

p. The defense has been busy this spring. The unit practices four times a week, while Tuesdays and Thursdays serve as time to review film of the practices and to hit the weight room. The players are determined to improve upon their performance from a year ago and have not allowed the loss of important senior leadership to affect the team.

p. “There is no void,” Cox said. “The reason for that is because of our young players. They kind of resemble my class, but a little more hungry, a little more goal oriented. They just have a mentality like its all or nothing, they’re going for it.”

p. That mentality results from underclassmen such as Tracy and fellow redshirt freshman C.J. Herbert gaining valuable playing time last season. While the results were not always favorable, just getting on the field has had a major impact on the psyche of the two, as well as the rest of the defense.

p. “Last year was our first action on the field at the collegiate level and I don’t care what anybody says, you get out there and you’re nervous,” Tracy said. “Us having some experience out there in the last 12 games definitely helped. We are assuming the role that the seniors had but at a younger year. We need to step up and mature and be leaders for our defensive group.”

p. More so than in years past, this spring has proven vital for the defense, as they attempt to rebound from a poor season and form an identity around a new coordinator and a new set of younger leaders. So far they have been successful, but there is still a great deal of work to be done.

p. “I think they’ve improved,” Laycock said. “We are probably not making as many plays as we would like to defensively, so far as fumbles or interceptions or things like that, but I think our effort is good and our enthusiasm is good and it really looks like we are beginning to understand the defense.”

p. While the Tribe’s season opener against Delaware University is over four months away, the confidence and excitement around Zable Stadium on the defensive side of the ball is growing rapidly.
“The only thing I can guarantee is that we are going to be dangerous,” Tracy said. “We have a new system and we have some key players that play the roles we need them to play throughout the defense. I definitely think we can exploit some offense’s weaknesses.”


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