HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – The Cougars ran the 3-4 base defense the last two seasons under former defensive coordinator Brian Stewart. He is now the defensive coordinator at Maryland where he is also expected to implement that same defense.
However, the Cougars are making a change. Former Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Jamie Bryant is now in the same position in his second season with the Houston Cougars after spending last season as linebackers coach. Bryant will implement the 4-3.
“We’re going to base out of the four-man front. But, we’re going to be pretty multiple. There was a ton of snaps last year that we looked like a four-man front with Sammy Brown standing up as a standup defensive end basically. So, there’s a lot of carry over for our guys.”
The Cougars ranked top 15 nationally in five categories in 2011-12. So, Bryant is not looking for much drop off. Most importantly, he wants to be able to defend variable offenses.
“I just think that the run game that we see today, you know with the quarterback running stuff; I think it’s a little advantageous to have four hands on the ground versus some people. And we’ve got some three-man stuff that we’re going to do as well. But the biggest thing is just getting our guys accustomed to the system this spring, play sound fundamental football, run to the ball, and be physical.”
Gone are senior linebackers Sammy Brown and Marcus McGraw. Brown and Marshall defensive end Vinny Curry traded the number one and two spots nationally in tackles-for-loss during the 2011-12 season. Brown finished the season with 30 TFL’s, 13.5 sacks, and 17 quarterback hurries.
Marcus McGraw led the team with 141 tackles while defensive end David Hunter was a mainstay and steady performer on the defensive line.
The Cougars will look to new leaders. But first there’s the business of changing faces emerging and getting comfortable with the nuances of the new, yet similar defense, says Bryant.
“We’ve got 14 more spring practices and 29 opportunities in the fall and that’s all you get. We’re putting in everything as fast as we can and trying to teach fundamentals and toughness and all those things. There are no tomorrows. There’s no next year for us. It’s everyday you have to win every drill and every rep that you’re in and that’s how we approach it.”
DEFENSIVE LEADERS MUST EMERGE
Look for senior cornerback D.J. Hayden to be one of those leaders in the secondary. He emerged last season as the 2011 Conference USA Defensive Newcomer of the Year and Second Team All C-USA performer. He led the secondary with 66 tackles, 13 passes defended, 11 breakups, and 2 interceptions.
However, Bryant will look to senior linebacker Phillip Steward to captain the defense.
“Phillip Steward has started for three years at SAM linebacker and he’s going to be SAM linebacker for us. Austin Wilson is working at that SAM linebacker. So that battle is going on there. At the MIKE linebacker, Everett Daniels and Efrem Oliphant are battling out for the MIKE right now.”
Steward finished 4th in team tackles with 77. But he led the team with 6 interceptions – at linebacker. Wilson, a junior, finished with 7 tackles last season. Daniels finished with 38 tackles and 3.5 TFL’s. Redshirt sophomore Oliphant, who earned a spot on the Freshman C-USA team in 2010, redshirted last season. But, there are other battles as well, says Bryant.
“George Bamfo has moved to WILL linebacker. He and Derrick Mathews are battling out at the WILL. It’s like we tell everybody everyday; just because you’re running with the 1’s today doesn’t mean you’re going to be running with the 1’s tomorrow. Every day is a game to us and every rep is of the most importance.”
Matthews ended the season with 107 total tackles, second to McGraw. He also had 10 TFL’s and 3 interceptions. Bamfo finished with 15 tackles. But he sacked the QB 3 times while adding 4 TFL’s to his resume.
“We’re going to try and develop as much depth as we can,” says Bryant. Everybody’s going to have a chance to battle for positions and we’re going to see how it all pans out after the spring.”