Devils' Defense Focuses On The Basics
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Nov 1, 2013, 07:30
RYAN LAZO/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
HOPEWELL — While every coach preaches the value of defense and its correlation to winning games, Hopewell’s football team has yet to find consistency on both sides of the ball, no doubt contributing to their overall 3-5 record.
After eight games, the Blue Devils’ defense is still struggling to maintain their focus on crucial defensive possessions, allowing big plays to happen with regular occurrence.
Never was this penchant more evident than in the past two weeks against Petersburg and Diniwiddie.
The Crimson Wave built a 21-point lead over Hopewell based entirely on the strength of big-plays in the open field, including a 26-yard run from running back Gemonta Jackson. In fact, the Blue Devils surrendered scoring drives of 65, 54, 63, 95 and 26 yards in the first half.
The same script was followed in Dinwiddie as the Generals compiled their own big plays starting with the opening 88-yard kick-off as well as a 54-yard passing touchdown.
It’s an aspect Hopewell’s defensive coordinator Bobby Henderson is aiming to correct in the season’s final two games.
“You are vulnerable to big plays when you bring a lot of pressure,” Henderson said of his defense. “That’s what we do. What we have to do get better at is sniffing out the screen ... our linemen, linebackers and corners have to be involved.”
But the vulnerability to screen plays has not been an issue just over the last two weeks, but a season-long problem.
Hopewell’s defense has allowed at least 30 points in a game five times this
season, putting the offense in early holes it cannot consistently climb out of.
In fact, the Blue Devils are surrendering 29 points per game this season.
In comparison, Hopewell’s offense is averaging 24 points per game.
It’s also no secret the Blue Devils’ success on offense relies on the rushing attack, especially the running of quarterback Tabyus Taylor. Whenever Hopewell needs a big play, they put the ball in his hands. However, when put in early deficits, it becomes difficult to run the ball as the opposition begins to stack the box.
Defensive linemen Nick Fant says the Blue Devils need to figure out how to take their second half efforts and translate it into a 48-minute effort.
“We’re more of a second half time. We come out of the locker room and are just ready to go,” Fant said. “It’s always great to get a good start ... we need to do more of it.”
Yet, it may be as simple as concentrating on the right assignments.
Numerous times this season, the inability to get penetration into the backfield has allowed creases to open for their opponents to run through. Making matters worse, when the Blue Devils do manage to get into the backfield, big passing plays hurt them over the top.
“We have a lot of young guys playing and we are starting a new guy each week to try to find someone who can get it done,” Henderson explained. “We have guys who are hungry, but we have to get better at what we do: reading, blitzing and tackling.”
RYAN LAZO/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
And it’s been easy to see what the insertion of different players in the starting lineup has done for the defense.
In fact, the secondary which had been a problem earlier this season, has been solidified with the addition of sophomore Ronnie Monroe. The cornerback has become a play-maker, nabbing four interceptions in the past three games.
“With Ronnie Monroe coming up, he’s played lights out,” Henderson said of the sophomore. “He’s been a great player for us and it’s like what was I doing having him down there on JV, gee-wiz.”
But it also comes down to a mentality.
Often times, defenses possess a mean-streak which gives them the necessary
motivation to dominate the trenches. It’s an aspect Fant says needs to be corrected.
“That’s a mindset. We have to go out there thinking they aren’t going to score anything on us,” Fant said his beleaguered defense. “As a team, we don’t have that yet. That’s something we need to improve on because football is not just physical; it’s mental, too.”
If the defense does not solve their mental issues, the pressure will be on the Hopewell offense to carry the team to wins, something that has proved to be tough to do this season.