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Lehigh 2010 Season Preview: Defense

Yesterday, we took a very close look at the Lehigh offense and what is hoped to be a vastly improved unit from 2009.  Today we turn our attention to the defense: a squad that has the potential to be one of the best in the nation, if everything works out; and special teams, a squad that has seen agony and ecstasy in the past two years.

And yet, the defense loses one of the best defensive linemen in recent memory at Lehigh, DT B.J. Benning, and one of players that head coach Andy Coen considered a "once in a decade" player, LB Matt Cohen.  Replacing them with good players won't be a problem. Having one or more defenders grow into the stars that Cohen and Benning were - that might be the challenge. (more)

Defensive coordinator Dave Kotulski loves the 3-4, and this year he will have his best, most experienced unit in this set yet.  Kotulski loves to throw multiple sets at opponents, and he has the athletes to throw a lot of different looks.

Start on the defensive line, where junior DT Andrew Knapp (26 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks) is the leading sack artist which returns.  While gigantor senior NG David Brown (305 lbs) joins him as a run-stuffer in the middle, and senior DE Ben Flizack, a converted linebacker, join him, Coen will rotate linemen in a lot, meaning sophomore DE Cody Connare, senior NG Billy Dokouslis and senior DT Phil Winett will get plenty of time as well.

With defensive captain senior LB Al Pierce leading the linebackers, the front seven is a force to be reckoned with - when healthy.  Pierce, senior LB Troy Taylor (69 tackles, 2 sacks) and junior LB Colin Newton (44 tackles) have all missed some time in the past year with injuries at some point - though if they remain healthy all year, this could be a fantastic unit.  Junior LB Tanner Rivas will try to fill Cohen's shoes on the outside.  There should also be plenty of work for junior LB Devin Greene, junior LB Mike Groome, and junior LB Fred Mihal - all proven players who have stepped into injury situations before and done well.

It's Lehigh's secondary, though, that proves to be a "show-me" unit on this Mountain Hawk squad.  Four seniors - senior CB Jarard "Main Man" Cribbs (45 tackles, 2 interceptions), senior CB John "Prez" Kennedy (34 tackles, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble), senior FS John Venerio (62 tackles, 3 interceptions) and senior SS Casey Eldemire (29 tackles, 2 interceptions) headline what could be the best secondary in the Patriot League.

It's not like there isn't any depth back there, either.  Sophomore CB Bryan Andrews (11 tackles, 1 interception) would likely be starting at corner any other year, and he will be prime choice for nickel back.  Senior DB Shane Ryan is a punishing hitter and is another intriguing option on the two-deep as is junior DB Jon Littlejohn.  It has the potential to be a great unit.

It's a unit that has a lot of depth, and many seniors.  The potential of this unit is very large - but then again, they have a brutal schedule to test them this year.


Kennedy and Cribbs are not just the corners, however.  They are the returning Patriot League leaders in kick returns (774 yards, 1 TD) and punt returns (311 yards) respectively.  With junior WR Craig "Braveheart" Zurn joining them on kickoffs, Lehigh's return game should remain a dangerous threat and a place where the Mountain Hawks can really make an impact in games.

But it's at placekicker - where it's unclear whether senior PK Tom Randazza, or sophomore PK Jake Peery, will be booting field goals or extra points - where questions will remain until the kickoff in Des Moines in three days.  Junior P Alex Smith, a solid punter, will be expected to take his game to the next level this season as well.


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