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High Defensive Energy As Spring Practice Enters Final Stretch

From early in practice on Friday, when the 2016 Mountain Hawks were performing tackling drills on what looked like huge red padded human-sized donuts, the defense brought the energy to the practice field on what was a beautiful Friday afternoon in the Lehigh Valley.

From the drills to the scrimmages, rising senior LB Colton Caslow and rising senior CB Brandon Leaks stood out in terms of their energy level, flying to the ball.

On one play during the scrimmage I saw, Caslow nearly took out someone holding up a down marker as he left his feet, trying to get at the offensive player.

On another, Leaks made a break on his receiver to give the Brown side a chance to crow against the White-jerseyed offense.

Though the contact has been "very limited", coach Coen said the tackling practices have been making a difference thus far in the spring season.

"I was very happy with our defense," head coach Andy Coen told me.  "I believe our veteran players really took the bull by the horns and were very good leaders during practice."

Lehigh's 2015 season certainly ended the right way, with the 49-35 win over the arch-rival Leopards, guaranteeing a return to winning seasons and a happy way to enter the offseason.

But soon thereafter, coach Coen made it clear that the defense would need to be challenged.

"In my history here," coach Coen told LehighSports.Com this week, "we've always tended to score points, moved the football, and done that very well.  [But] our best seasons, 2010, 2011, 2012, we played very good defense.  We talked about what we wanted to do and what we needed to do defensively."

The gauntlet has been presented to the Lehigh defense - improve, be the best you can be, respond to the challenge, and Patriot League championships - hopefully - will return to South Mountain.

Repeatedly you hear coach Coen asking members of the defense, and members of the coaching staff, to "step up", and the seniors on the defense whom have put in the most time are the ones being asked to "step up" the most.

"We're working on coming together as a unit, making sure everybody's doing the right things at the right times," Caslow said in the same video.  "One major focus that we're having this spring is getting all eleven guys to the ball on every play, no one walking or slacking."

When I attend a spring football practice, it strikes me how improving at football doesn't necessarily require money - just work and dedication.  Alabama might gold-plate their tackling dummies, for all I know - but the players still need to put in the hard work and refine the technique and make the commitment to get better.  It was never more clear to me that it's not about technology - it's about the people.

At the practice I went to this week, the defense certainly embodied the idea that they were being challenged to bring the noise every play - even though tackling during the practices were severely limited.

"When we did tackle, I was impressed at how well we did," Coen said.  "The drills we did regarding tackling really made a difference."

There was also the issue of depleted numbers, especially on the defensive line.  Andy did mention the players that did put in time on the defensive performed "outstanding", with coach Coen mentioning sophomore DL Harrison Kauffman, junior DL Harrison Johnson and senior NG Jim Mitchell having strong spring sessions overall.

"This offseason we looked at rushing yards per carry on the board," Mitchell said in the LehighSports.Com report.  "2.8... 3.2... in the threes, mostly.  Last two years... 5.7, and 5.1.  We took that as a huge emphasis on what we were going to focus on, making sure we cut that down."

Another area that was hit pretty hard by injury over the spring session was defensive back, something that should be of keen interest to all Lehigh football fans.  Though Leaks and junior CB Quentin Jones seem destined for some sort of prominent role on the defense along with sophomore S Sam McCloskey, many starting areas on the two deep seem up for grabs.

"I like the direction we're headed with the entire defensive backfield," coach Coen told me.  "I've seen improvement from junior DB Marc Raye-Redmond, sophomore DB Kareem Mongomery has been solid, and sophomore DB Donavon Harris has improved from the fall."

With the depleted numbers in the secondary, the three seem to have made the most of their time this spring to get entrenched on that opening day roster.

Probably the most surprising aspect of the spring prospectus, which came out last week, was the number of offensive players that were shifting to the defensive side of the ball at linebacker.

Senior LB Evan Kauffman, who missed all of 2015 due to injury, converted from fullback, and senior LB Michael Anderson, who switched from wideout, join the battle to make the two-deep, where Caslow, senior LB Pierce Ripanti, and senior ROV LaQuan Lambert, returning for his 5th season, should be a key part of how the 2016 will look in the fall.

It's going to be an interested end to the spring season, which officially will conclude this Saturday with a spring game.

"We will more than likely have a no-tackling game with officials calling it," he told me.

This Saturday, expect to be impressed.


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