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August 27, 2012Tweet Follow @achiappazzi
It's no secret that the secondary was the weak link in the Robert Morris defense in 2011. Even though safeties D.J. Myers and Cameron Chadwick led the team in tackles, the unit was often out of sync. The entire foursome was new to the defense, and several took time to adjust to the speed of Division I FCS football.
Head coach Joe Walton spoke of the importance of the secondary's growth throughout spring ball and into training camp. But to hear the veteran coach talk now, it sounds like the secondary is far from a concern.
"I think we're going to have a great secondary," Walton said. "Those kids are quick, they can intercept, they can knock balls down, and they can recover."
The two safeties, the only two Colonials back with extensive starting experience, are on the same page as their head coach.
"I think everybody's done a 180. Everyone's on the same page. I feel like that's the biggest difference from last year," Chadwick said. "The chemistry right now on the defense is unbelievable. We're a tight group."
To outside observers, the defense in general appears to have a bit of a swagger back, something that has been the hallmark of successful units in the past, including the 2010 NEC Championship squad. Myers said experience and confidence plays a large role in developing that swagger.
"I had the opportunity of sitting behind Mike Richards and (Mike) Landers, two great safeties, and they taught me to just gel with the team as best as I can," Myers said. "That swagger comes from experience and knowing I have a year under my belt."
Both Myers and Chadwick pointed to improved chemistry and communication as a major reason for the step forward. The two safeties practiced in spring ball primarily with Clay Ilkin and Antwan Eddie at corner, and while Ilkin is out with an arm injury right now, sophomore Zach Washington has been able to step up and provide the secondary with confidence that no matter who is back there on September 1, they'll be fine.
"It's a big step forward. Eddie played a lot, so the chemistry is there with us. The communication is just key right now and it's gotten better," Chadwick said. "Zach Washington is stepping up. Malik Johnson is stepping up and we have a couple good freshmen coming in who are competing and making the other corners better."
Myers said another key component has been a comfort level in assignments, which brings a familiarity with what offenses might try to do. It's comfort in chaos, one of the toughest things for college football players to adjust to.
"I think last year we were focused on, 'This is my assignment and I have to do it.' Now we're kind of transitioning to understanding the whole defense," Myers said. "We can react faster. Last year I thought a lot. Cam and I were thinking instead of just seeing what we know is going to come and just reacting."
The ability to read and react faster, almost instinctively, allows Robert Morris to be more versatile on defense. The coaching staff prides itself on being able to blitz from anywhere or drop anyone in the linebackers or secondary back into coverage. Just like it's been a point of emphasis for the middle linebackers, that's also been a point of focus for the safeties.
"We repped that just this last week," Myers said. "Coach (Bill Hurley) has been forcing us to switch roles, and instead of me playing strong safety, I'll play free and cam will play my role. In the game, I'm not always going to be on the strong side. If we happen to have to check like that, we'll be prepared for it."
Prepared. It's a key concept for football teams. And it's a feeling RMU feels more connected with in 2012.
"I'm just ready," Myers said. "I'm ready for the season to start."
ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at email@example.com.
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