2015 Boro Football Position Preview: Defensive Backs and Special Teams

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Tuesday, September 1st, 2015 at 11:07 PM
2015 Boro Football Position Preview: Defensive Backs and Special Teams by Mike Fenner
DeVon Groves is a returning defensive back for the Fighting Scots.

The group at a glance:
No./ Name/ Pos./ Ht./ Wt./ Exp./ Hometown/ High School/ Transfer School
1 Mitch Thomas
CB 5-11 170 Fr. Buffalo, N.Y. / Canisius
12 Marquese Moore
CB 5-10 161 R-Fr. Aliquippa, Pa. / Aliquippa
13 Thaddeus Cornick
CB 5-11 177 Fr. Blandon, Pa. / Fleetwood
21 Zuril Hendrick
CB 6-0 176 Fr. Rochester, N.Y. / Pittsford Central
24 Charles McLemore III
CB 5-10 186 Jr. Columbus, Ohio / Westerville South Lackawanna CC
28 Brandon Anderson
CB 6-1 202 Fr. Willingboro, N.J. / Holy Cross
35 Louis Hill IV
CB 5-7 163 R-So. Fairlawn, Oh. / Copley Akron
8 DeVon Groves
FS 6-1 178 So. Columbia, Md. / Wilde Lake
25 Aaron Rogers
FS 6-1 173 Fr. Burlington, N.J. / Burlington Township
27 Lindel Service
FS 6-0 178 R-Fr. West Orange, N.J. / West Orange
40 Hayes Wallman
FS 6-2 188 Fr. Pittsford, N.Y. / Pittsford Mendon
7 Ricky Bailey III
SS 6-1 195 So. Youngstown, N.Y. / Niagara Falls Rhode Island
20 Jake Leber
SS 5-11 198 R-Jr. Glassport, PA / South Allegheny
26 David Ballew III
SS 6-1 201 Fr. Cleveland, Ohio / Collingwood
36 Michael Rizzuto
SS 5-10 181 Fr. Port Matilda, Pa. / State College
23 Austin Reese
PK 6-1 240 R-So. Orchard Park, N.Y. / Orchard Park St. Francis (Pa.)
59 Josh Schmidt
LS 6-4 208 Fr. Jefferson Hills, Pa. / Thomas Jefferson

Players lost: DB: Montell Martin, Aaron Knight Jr., Dajhere Pacly, Anthony Gates, Deanti Powell, Chris Laird, O’Sha Jackson, Veuntrae Robinson, Corey Beck ST: Paul Ortiz, Paul “Kip” Petrusky, Spencer Howell
Players returning: DB: Marquese Moore, Louis Hill IV, DeVon Groves, Jake Leber ST: Austin Reese
Newcomers: DB: Mitch Thomas, Thaddeus Cornick, Zuril Hendrick, Charles McLemore III, Brandon Anderson, Aaron Rogers, Lindel Service, Hayes Wallman, Ricky Bailey III, David Ballew III, Michael Rizzuto

Analysis:

Secondary play wasn’t a strong suit for Edinboro last year, to put it nicely. Though the Scots were at times stout in the front seven, the back four struggled mightily all season. It was no secret the Scots would have a tough out when beginning their 2014 journey in the back end after roster attrition took its hardest toll on this particular group.

In most scenarios, the glass half full approach to last year’s issue would result in valuable repetitions that carry a ton of weight heading into this year. However, there was still plenty of turnover from the young secondary of a year ago to a practically new batch of defensive backs. Senior safety Veuntrae Robinson graduated and Edinboro lost the likes of cornerbacks Montell Martin, O’Sha Jackson, and Aaron Knight Jr. as well as Corey Beck and Deanti Powell at safety as none of the five returned to the program.

The reality is Edinboro only returns three players from the secondary who have ever taken snaps for the Fighting Scots. Two of those three saw action on the defensive side of the ball as DeVon Groves started seven games at safety and Jake Leber returns after playing the last two years in the Scots back end.

Louis Hill IV appeared in 11 games, but finished with just five tackles as a special teams regular. The upside for the Scots is that the board has been virtually wiped clean. Pencil in Groves at the free safety spot and after that, it’s a free-for-all between the cornerback spots and at strong safety.

On special teams, the kicking game entirely changed from last year to the season opener of this season. Placekicker Paul Ortiz and punter Spencer Howell did not return, nor did long snapper Kip Petrusky. Junior linebacker Victor Hudson is the only Scot who comes back to the squad with a kick return after fielding one squib kick for 14 yards. The very same issue exists in the punt return game after receiver Ben Eisel graduated. Joel Fulton’s 13 yard runback represents the only punt return form a returning player on the roster. Special teams will be a complete overhaul, but that may not be a bad thing in some areas. Ortiz only connected on three of his six field goal attempts last year and only managed to covert a kick of 30 yards or longer while having a kick blocked. The punting chores were distributed between the likes of Ortiz (30 punts, 31.8 avg.), Howell (10 punts, 31.5 avg.) and receiver Connor Hollenbeck (28 punts, 33.0 avg.) and was often an adventure.

Quotable: 

Senior defensive end Domenic Principale on defensive expectations: “I’m really expecting big things from the defense. We do have some young guys coming in, so we’ll have to conform them into our system and really get them into it and get our defense rolling as soon as possible. Last year we started off really slow with our secondary and it was a tough season. I’m expecting to win every game, you always go into a game expecting to win, but you need to be realistic with it and I really hope we have a great season this year.”
Principale on the state of the secondary: “It’s just a matter of being 18-years-old playing 22-years-old. Like I said before, it’s tough. If we could get a couple of those guys back like (DeVon Groves)…he was our safety last year. He had suffered a shoulder injury, so he didn’t get to play in the last three games of the season. That really hurt him, but by the seventh game of the season I noticed he was starting to fill and starting to do his jobs responsibly and it’s the same thing with our other DB’s. It’s just a matter of getting some experience in these guys and then they’ll fill their place on our team.”
Senior linebacker Mike Shansky on who he expects to step up for the defensive backs: “DeVon Groves, he played last year and he can help us out a lot.”

What to expect: 

The struggles may continue for the Edinboro defensive backs, but no position group holds more mystery than this unit. Groves returns with nine games played and finished fourth on the team in tackles with 52 and solo stops with 27 in 2014. The six-foot-one-inch, 178 pound sophomore also logged one of the Scots’ nine interceptions along with 2.5 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, two passes defended and a pass breakup from his safety spot. He’s been the most talked about in the secondary to this point and has a chance to lead the group, despite not having a ton of experience himself. Leber recorded 20 tackles, 11 solo stops, a forced fumble and a pass defended as well as broken up last year, but he opens up not listed on Edinboro’s two-deep, so experience may not matter in his case.

Listed as a starter opposite Groves, Ricky Bailey III will open up at the strong safety spot. Bailey III is a six-foot-two-inch, 204 pound redshirt sophomore from Youngstown, New York as well is a Rhode Island transfer.The cornerback spots will be manned by Mitch Thomas and Charles McLemore III. Thomas, a five-foot-eleven-inch, 170 pound true freshman from Buffalo, New York will be thrown right into the fire to begin his Edinboro career. McLemore III, a junior transfer from Lackawanna Community College (same school as linebacker Gabe Tillman) and originally from Columbus, Ohio is listed at five-feet-ten-inches and 185 pounds. Also listed on the two-deep are true freshman cornerbacks Zuril Hendrick and Thaddeus Cornick as well as true freshman safety Aaron Rogers and redshirt freshman strong safety Lindel Service.

As was the case last year, the starting lineup will more than likely receive shuffling from week to week if spots are not solidified by performances. A season ago, the Scots finished 12th in the PSAC with nine interceptions and trailed only Shippensburg with interceptions returned for touchdowns two. Edinboro finished third last in the conference in stopping opponents on third down with just under 45 percent of third downs surrendered defensively (69-of-154). The Scots also finished 11th among PSAC foes in pass defense (267.5 avg.) and gave up nearly 3,000 yards through the air, 25 touchdown passes and 61.6 percent completions against its opponents (228-of-370). The front seven will be heavily depended upon in the 3-4 look due to the youth and inexperience from the back four. The troubling matter for Edinboro is that even if they hit on all four starters, which is far from certain, depth will be what gets this group in the end. 

As far as special teams are concerned, redshirt sophomore Austin Reese will handle the kicking and punting duties for Edinboro. Although Reese was not a contributor last year, he does return to the program after backing up Ortiz. The six-foot-one-inch, 240 pound Orchard Park, New York native was originally a St. Francis (Pennsylvania) transfer and he’ll be the go-to-guy for extra points and field goals. Don’t be surprised if Hollenbeck reenters the conversation at punter if Reese cannot get it done. Josh Schmidt, a six-foot-four-inch, 208 pound freshman Jefferson Hills, Pennsylvania native will be Edinboro’s long and short snapper as starting quarterback Jake Sisson will be the team’s holder. In the return game, Thomas will return kicks and punts along with his cornerback duties. Junior wide receiver Darren Massey will also get in on the act with returning kicks.

Note: All quotes were obtained firsthand from the 2015 PSAC West football media day luncheon on Monday, Aug. 10.  Photo credit to Edinboro University Sports Information Department atgofightingscots.com.

Mike Fenner is a staff writer for The Spectator. 

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