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Secondary leads defense, linebackers bring on the blitz

Every Ivy League team will have returning quarterbacks this season, said Head Coach Phil Estes at the 2011 Ivy League Football Media Day Teleconference. According to cornerback AJ Cruz '13, this could pose a challenge for Brown's defense.

"I think it'll be interesting," he said. "I know we had one of the best pass defenses last year — I think we were first. … (But the quarterbacks are) going to be better this year, so hopefully our defense can step up."

Last season, the Bears had a total of 23 sacks for a loss of 134 yards against these quarterbacks. In comparison, Bruno's opponents only managed to log 10 sacks.

Though the seasoned quarterbacks will only improve this year, the Bears' defense is chock-full of talent and experience, Cruz said. In 2010, Cruz earned First Team All-Ivy Honors, tying former defensive linebackers Andrew Serrano '11 and Chimso Okoji '11 and free safety Stephen Peyton '12 for the team lead in interceptions, with two. He made 33 tackles on the year, 20 of them solo hits.

Cruz also contributed on special teams in 2010, returning 13 kickoffs for 295 total yards.

Estes said Cruz "is just one of the great corners in the league," but the coach also recognized cornerback Mel Farr '12.

"(Farr) played a little bit last year and has a shot to do great things this season," said Peyton, adding that Farr is just returning from a preseason injury. Last season, Farr racked up 19 tackles and added an interception.

Since Cruz, Farr and Peyton all started last season, Cruz said the secondary is one of the defense's greatest strengths. He said he has particular confidence in Peyton, who, as the Bears' last line of defense, made 79 tackles last year, the most on the team and seventh-best in the Ivy League.

"(Peyton) has a whole lot of experience that's going to increase his game play," Cruz said. "He really progressed last season. With that experience, … there's no doubt in my mind he's the best safety in the league."

"The guy that really is the quarterback of the defense, Steve Peyton … is really just a kid that can run, and he's very physical at the point of attack and just a tremendous player for us," Estes said.

"Quarterback of the defense" is a title usually reserved for the middle linebacker. But as the leader in tackles and interceptions on the team who earned Second Team All-Ivy Honors, Peyton has proven worthy of the title. Against the University of Rhode Island in the Governor's Cup game last year, he had a career-high 20 tackles and recovered a fumble. For his physicality and heads-up play in this game, he was named the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week. Now, it is Peyton's responsibility to make the calls and ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Despite the efforts of Peyton and the rest of the defense, the Bears lost the Governor's Cup in overtime 27-24. But this year, the Bears should have plenty of adrenaline pumping through their veins when they take on the Rams: The game will be Bruno's home opener and the second-ever night game held at Brown Stadium.

In addition to the secondary, the defensive line promises to be a brick wall, with Clayton McGrath '11.5 and co-captain Kyle Rettig '12 at the forefront. McGrath led the league last year in tackles for a loss, with 13.5, forcing Bruno's opponents backward 41 yards. He also led the Bears' pass rush with six sacks, enough for third overall in the league.

Cruz described Rettig as "just a force down there."

"I don't think anybody's going to just put one guy on him," he said. Rettig became a starter last year, playing in nine of 10 games and making 29 total tackles.

Peyton and Cruz also said they expect big things from Stephen Fox '13 and Matthew O'Donnell '12, who both had breakout seasons last year.

"Our linebackers will surprise a lot of people," Peyton said. "They haven't started before, so they have the chance to show a lot of people what they can do. They don't have as much experience, but in preseason … they've shown they can definitely handle the task."

"All around, at each position, we have a lot of guys who can put a lot of pressure on the quarterback," he said. "The quarterback will be getting rid of the ball real quick. (It) makes (the secondary's) job a bit easier."


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