Bears confident in experienced defensive lineup

Sports Editor
Tuesday, September 11, 2012

With a defense ranked first in the Ivy League in yards against last season, the returning squad will have a lot to live up to this fall.
Head Coach Phil Estes spoke confidently of the veteran players who will fill many of the Bears’ defensive positions, adding that inexperience among the linebackers is an exception to the rest of the squad.
“Even though we graduated (some seniors), there are players that have to step up. We don’t think we should be taking a drop-off by any means,” said Michael Kelleher, the defensive coordinator.
An experienced defensive line – including Brett Polacek ’14, John Bumpus ’14, co-captain Ross Walthall ’13 and Stephen Fox ’13 – will return to continue putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
With Michael Yules ’14, Patxi Colbern ’13 and Matthew Miller ’13 giving the squad “good depth,” Kelleher said the defensive line will be in “very good shape.”
“We feel like we have at least eight guys that have a lot of experience and (will) be able to boost our defensive line,” Estes added.
Co-captain A.J. Cruz ’13, who had three interceptions last season, will nail down the secondary with Emory Polley ’14. Polley was a starter at cornerback last season who racked up 20 tackles and one interception.
Estes called Cruz “one of the best defensive backs in the league” during the 2012 Football Media Day Teleconference With Polley manning the other side of the field, Estes said, “We feel that we’re very, very solid (at cornerback).”
The coaches did note the relative lack of varsity experience in the linebacker corps.
“We have a number of players coming back with experience, but, saying that, we are going to be a little inexperienced at the linebacker position,” Kelleher said.
Estes said the team does have significant talent at the position.
“You’re going to see those guys getting better and better, game after game, because they’re getting that experience,” he added.
Estes said a main challenge for the new starting linebackers – Stephen Zambetti ’13, Xavier Russo ’15 and Daniel Giovacchini ’15 – will be developing the instincts needed to succeed at this level of play.
“You’ve got to read your keys and do your job,” he said. “Sometimes you want to do a little bit more, you find yourself in trouble.”
For this season’s starting linebackers, that sort of gut knowledge “is just going to come by experience,” he added.
“It’ll be a first start for (Giovacchini), but he’s a hell of an athlete, and he can make plays, and what I’d call him is slippery … he’s just a hard guy to block,” Estes said.
Kelleher added that the new starters’ general familiarity with the Brown football program has helped prepare them for varsity competition.
“We’ve been able to remain consistent in having an opportunity to compete for championships every year because we are fortunate enough to be able to not have to rely on the first-year players,” Kelleher said. He explained that younger defensive players often have some difficulty transitioning from high school standards to the playing styles that win college games.
Cruz said this year’s starting defense is well-equipped to fill the holes left by graduating seniors. His concerns about the linebackers’ experience, he said, were “squashed” last spring, and a strong preseason and enthusiasm from the team’s seniors, he said, will help make it a “fun, exciting year.”
“You see a focus shift from the senior class, like … this is our last chance,” Cruz said. That final-shot determination led many of the team’s veterans to do great work in preparing for this season over the summer, he added.
“Can we get there now?” Cruz said. “We’re all ready.”

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