Morgan State optimistic about new-look defense

College Football

August 09, 2006|By KENT BAKER | KENT BAKER,SUN REPORTER

During the past two seasons, the Morgan State offense has been something of an irresistible force, averaging nearly 30 points a game despite a tailspin toward the end of 2005.

Unfortunately for the Bears, the defense has been a rather movable object, surrendering an average in excess of 36 points over the same time span.

And the team has paid the consequences in the form of two consecutive losing records, including a 2-9 mark last fall when it plummeted to ninth place in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with only one league win.

That is not where coach Donald Hill-Eley wanted to be after resurrecting a long-struggling program that had undergone 23 consecutive losing seasons before he arrived in 2002 and turned around the team with a 7-5 performance that included six triumphs in the last seven games.

So, Hill-Eley returned to his Virginia roots in an effort to upgrade the defense, bringing in Washington native Alonzo Lee, a former associate at Hampton University, as his third coordinator in five years.

It reunites two coaches who were the coordinators for the Pirates when they consistently led or challenged for the statistical lead in both departments and captured MEAC titles in 1997 and 1998.

When Morgan launched fall practice this week, there was a new air of hope permeating the defense that seemed to exceed the usual preseason optimism.

"He got me fired up with the level of trust he tried to instill in us this spring," said defensive lineman Temi Omotade, a redshirt senior who is expected to be one of the defensive stalwarts. "He told us, `I can't play you if I don't trust you' and that got my attention. He told us he was going to be there for us, and he's kept his word. He commanded a lot of respect."

"He brings enthusiasm and spirit," added junior linebacker Lamar West. "He's a motivator and a real good person who will be in your corner. You feel comfortable with what you're doing."

Lee had been at North Carolina A&T the past three years after previous stints at Howard, Florida A&M and Hampton, so Morgan is his fifth stop in the MEAC. That familiarity with the league will not hurt, nor will a history of success.

In 2003, the Aggies, MEAC champs, finished in the top six nationally in Division I-AA in three defensive categories, an achievement they matched last season.

"I think we'll be able to do more traditional type things on defense," Hill-Eley said. "I think we have the talent in place, but I didn't think the techniques were where they needed to be and our alignments were off. That put the defense at a disadvantage.

"After going through the spring, I didn't have the questions I had in the past. The kids had a lot more success than the previous spring. I think they communicated better and the scheme fits them better."

Lee, 48, had a stellar playing career at Eastern Illinois, which won the Division I-AA national title in 1978. He was a captain, leading tackler and All-American as a senior.

"We got quite a bit accomplished in the spring," he said. "We wanted to get guys up to a certain standard and get them playing with 100 percent effort to the football on every single down. I think we really had some camaraderie among the guys. Morgan hasn't had any problem scoring; now, we have to put the other half together."

Omotade said that the team has "the smoothest spring practice" in his career and that he expects the Bears to be better prepared for game situations than last season. "Coach Lee has addressed a lot of those issues. I have high expectations."

He even went so far as to say "we're going to have more days like that," referring to the team's 7-0 shutout of Howard, the defensive high point of 2005. "We think we can have three or four shutouts."

"This new scheme fits us," said West. "It seems like it was designed for us, showing our speed and aggressiveness. He [Lee] really stressed having each other's back."

"Believe it or not, we believe our strength will be defense because of the speed we recruited," said Hill-Eley. "We have some guys who are going to end up turning some heads. Our whole linebacker and secondary corps are probably Division I [I-A] caliber."

kent.baker@baltsun.com

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