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  • Writer's pictureGene Clemons

SoCon Coaches Speak: Defensive Line Voted Most Explosive Force on the Field

The SoCon media day produced a lot of great sound bites and opportunities for video and pictures with the players and coaches but as a coach I wanted to pick other coaches' brains about things that keep them up at night. The SoCon seems to be trending more and more towards elite-level offensive football. Teams like Western Carolina, Samford, Furman, and Mercer were all among the most productive offenses in the FCS in 2022 and hey are all predicted to be among the best in the championship subdivision once again.

From Left to Right: Mercer University head coach Drew Cronic, WCU head coach Kerwin Bell, The Citadel head coach Maurice Drayton at SoCon Media Day | PC: Gene Clemons

With so much attention on the offenses in the conference, I was curious what the coaches in the conference believe is the most disruptive group on the defense. All nine coaches unanimously agreed that it was the defensive line that caused offenses the most consternation. It is the single most disruptive unit in football.

"When you have havoc players on the defensive line, you don't have to blitz," Wofford head coach Shawn Watson said while explaining why the defensive line caused so many issues. "You can stunt those guys, you can game those guys. It makes everybody in the second and third level better."

Chattanooga head coach Rusty Wright believes it is the defensive line as well. He credits that to their ability to dominate the offense in both areas.

"Well if they're good it's gonna be the defensive line right, cause they've gotta handle them in the run game and the pass game," Wright said with no hesitation. "That's my thing, if you are good up front on the defensive line, it's hard on an offense."

Furman University's head man Clay Hendrix agrees with Wright that the disruption caused by the defensive line against the run and in the pass game almost eliminates the need for a really good linebacking corps or defensive backfield. First-year VMI boss and resident defensive-minded coach Danny Rocco agrees that the first level can render the other two levels irrelevant.

Samford University head coach Chris Hatcher with quarterback Mike Hiers and defensive lineman Joseph Mera talking at the 2023 SoCon Media Day | PC: Gene Clemons

"If you wreck the play on the first level the second and third level don't even have a chance to get involved," Rocco said enthusiastically while discussing the defensive line's ability to affect a play. They have the best opportunity on any given play to disrupt the play."

Western Carolina head coach Kerwin Bell agrees that the defensive line causes a lot of disruption for an offense but as a former quarterback he believes that they are at their most disruptive when they can create pressure up the middle and disturb the comfort of a quarterback.

"Edge rushers are great, you want to have great edge rushers but when you got dominant D tackles who can penetrate the pocket, that as a quarterback is very uncomfortable when they push the pocket right in your face."

Drew Cronic, the head coach at Mercer University, had an offense that joined Western Carolina as two of the top seven units in yards per game last season. It is fair to say that both of those squads know how to move the ball against a defense and yet without hesitation, the Bears head guy discussed the type of defensive front that can be a constant pain for an offense.

To me when you can line up in a four man front defensively and you've got two great pass rushers on the edge and you don't have to blitz to put pressure on the quarterback and you can really play coverage and not take chances, that to me…." He paused mid-sentence briefly to gather his thought as he gave insight into the type of defense he wants for his team. "If I could say one thing I want our team to be is to be like that. You gotta put pressure on the quarterback and the ability to do that without blitzing makes a defense special!"


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