Defense is order of the day for Morgan

12 returnees to the line expected to help improve on 1-10 record in 1998

August 15, 1999|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

To reach yesterday's media day at Morgan State, defensive tackle Larry Tucker packed his Chevy Malibu in Central Florida and drove 14 hours through the night, such was his excitement over an event that signals the beginning of football season.

Tucker's excitement may have had something to do with the role his unit -- the defensive line -- will have in determining the success of a team that was 1-10 in 1998.

"We have to go out and prove something," said Tucker, a 5-foot-11, 275-pound senior who had 34 tackles last season.

Half of Morgan's losses last year were by five points or less. "Hopefully, we can go out and turn those close losses into victories," said Tucker.

Reaching that goal will depend a lot on Tucker and the other 11 returning defensive line members, including starters Carl Carter, Phillip Pendergrass and Carlos Mitchell.

New coach Stanley Mitchell said that the success of the entire defense will be vital as he expects a slow start from the offense.

"Right now, from the returning players, it would have to be the strength that will have to carry us until the offense catches up," he said.

With younger and converted players at linebacker and in the secondary, it's up to the defensive line.

Said Carter: "We are the most established group on the team, and we have some young corners, so we have to help them out so that they can succeed. The more pressure we get on the quarterback, the less pressure there is on the secondary."

If there was one place a quarterback could feel safe last season, it was on the field against Morgan State, which registered 22 sacks.

"They tried to put pressure on the quarterback, but I don't think they really did," new defensive coordinator Victor Matthews said.

Matthews said that while looking at the videotapes from last season, he found the defensive line short of blameless in a performance where the team gave up nearly 200 rushing yards per game.

The main flaw Matthews found -- and one found throughout the defense -- was positioning. Because the defensive linemen were often out of position, they couldn't draw offensive linemen into spots that left openings for linebackers to tackle running backs at or behind the line of scrimmage. Missed tackles were also a problem.

"I would say that they got beat on a lot of little plays," Matthews said. "[The main problems] were the stretching of the defense and the guys not being fundamentally sound."

The belief at Hughes Stadium yesterday was that the switch from a 4-4 defensive scheme to a 4-3 would better serve the linemen, who might fit more into a defense with more stunts and blitzes.

"There was nothing wrong with the defensive line, but the scheme didn't suit the personnel; players were out of position and they couldn't protect the linebackers," Mitchell said. "[The new scheme] is easy to learn and you have two people calling the defensive signals, linemen and linebackers."

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