Does that mean that the time is finally right to start taking early looks at the matchups on next year's schedule, and see what sort of players and teams the Mountain Hawks will be up against?
It does to me, at least. Especially when one of the players on the Drake team we'll be facing - senior DE Dain Taylor - has been getting NFL scouts and plenty of pre-season accolades going into the season.
Drake is a lot more than Taylor, of course. But Taylor's statistics should put to rest any idea that Drake of the Pioneer Football League will be a pushover fifty days from now. (more)
"Dain is as passionate about football as anyone I have ever coached," said Drake head coach Chris Creighton in this official Drake release. "In his final off-season, he has set new personal records in all eight strength and conditioning categories. We have high expectations for Dain this fall."
Defensive captain Taylor, part of the Consensus Draft Services preseason FCS All-American second team and Phil Steele's preseason all-Pioneer League first team, does certainly have high expectations - including looks from NFL scouts, according to this article from Drake's school paper:
Two scouts from the Minnesota Vikings and the Dallas Cowboys came to Des Moines Friday to evaluate Drake seniors-to-be DE Dain Taylor and DT Andrew Asbell.
Taylor said that the scouts will take the recorded information and put it in an NFL database where any team can see their data. He says that the next step in the process is to not get too excited about the situation and to focus on football and spring practice.
“You can’t get too hyped, but it’s exciting for next year,” Taylor said.
Even though it is early in the scouting process, Creighton is proud of the direction the program is moving in and is happy that these two players are getting professional consideration.
“It’s really a reflection of those guys,” he said. “Those guys are passionate. They are great students and people.
Taylor's 2009 statistics show a peek as to why preseason magazines and NFL scouts have been so interested in him this offseason. Not only his 10 1/2 sacks (good for sixth nationally) his 19 1/2 tackles for loss (third nationally, finishing ahead of Lehigh LB Matt Cohen), and 4 forced fumbles, but his consistency of production as well: he accumulated the statistics in every game last year, achieving at least an assist on a tackle for loss in every single game.
His breakout 2009 season wasn't all just because of him. As an opposing offensive line if you double-team Taylor, that opens up senior DE Josh Walkup on the other side. He's another pretty good defensive lineman at the FCS level as well, his 13 1/2 tackles for loss (including 8 sacks) being a testimony to his abilities. Their formidable front four is filled out in the interior, 6'6 sophomore NG David Witkiewicz, a good run-stuffer underneath, and senior DT Andrew Asbell, who was an all-Pioneer lineman when he last played, is also getting NFL looks alongside Taylor.
The rest of this aggressive defense also has a host of solid Pioneer players returning, including freshman of the year sophomore DB/LB Tyler Moorehead (67 tackles, 14 1/2 tackles for loss), senior LB Ben Morrison (75 tackles, 14 1/2 tackles for loss), and senior CB Michael Lahart (2 interceptions).
Drake played a 4-3 or 4-2-5 defense last year, playing on the strength of the Bulldogs' front four. With a star-studded group once again, that seems like that should continue in Drake's 2010 home opener against Lehigh as well. It's probably not too early to say, too, if Lehigh can dominate this front four, they'll have a very good chance to leave Des Moines with a "W".
Even with a strong statistical front four, though, it's clear the passion and work ethic of this Bulldog team flows through Dain Taylor. He expects great things: "We expect to shut out every team we play," he was quoted after a 19-0 shutout of Missouri S&T last year. After a 34-14 win over nearby Pioneer League opponent Valparaiso, Taylor and head coach Creighton weren't at all satisfied with their performance, either. “That’s our goal every game – to win the turnover battle,” Taylor said. “We want to get at least two turnovers a game. Today we were able to bring pressure and get to the quarterback.”
For good measure, during the year last year Creighton added that Taylor should dominate every game he plays. He's also said that having a defense as good as Drake's last year is a "comfort", largely due to the presence of athletes like Taylor.
As good as the athletes are, there is one key person missing from last year's defensive unit: their defensive coordinator. Neal Nethery, also an assistant head coach last year, was hired away from the Bulldogs to take over with a brand-new FCS football program -the UTSA Roadrunners - as their new defensive coordinator. In his place comes Tom Allen, from Division III Lambuth, to take his place.
But it seems like Drake will bring another aggressive, strong defense to the game in Des Moines. In their spring game, the Bulldog defense forced three turnovers in a 51-31 victory.