Skip to content

Middlebury 2013 Football Preview Part II: Defense

2012 Recap

The offense was littered with all-conference players, but the biggest difference between the .500 2011 season and a one-loss season in 2012 was the transformation of the defense under coordinator Doug Mandigo. The unit jumped from the worst scoring defense in the conference, allowing over 31 points per game in 2011, to the third-best unit in the NESCAC by that standard, allowing just 18.6 points per game in 2012. Middlebury’s leap came largely as a result of improved tackling, resulting in far fewer big plays allowed. With the exception of a significant regression against Trinity, the Panthers boasted an elite defense in 2012. There are as many, if not more holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball, as there are on offense and the depth of Middlebury’s defensive line and its unproven corners will be tested early this season. How those units respond will be the difference between an elite defense and a regression towards a middling group.

Key Defensive Players

Bryant Adams: Adams, who has contributed since his freshman year, returns as the most experienced player on a defensive line with apparently little depth. At 6’2’’ and 267 pounds Adams is easily the Panthers’ biggest defensive lineman and will have to be a force at the line of scrimmage to clear lanes for Middlebury’s linebacking corps. Adams was disruptive at times last season, totaling 24 tackles, including 1.5 for losses and demonstrated his athleticism on an early season interception. Nick Burdeau and Jack Crowell return, but a line that featured three senior starters a year ago, in Jimmy Tilson, Keegan Ashley and Doug Rogers—when healthy—is a question mark this season. Adams will need to stay healthy and eat space and shed blocks to successfully anchor the line. Playing a thankless position statistically, the tackle breakdown of the linebackers versus the secondary will be the best measure of Adams’ and the defensive line’s success this season. If they can demand double teams and keep blockers out of the second level, the unit will have done its job.

Tim Patricia: There are few defensive players in the NESCAC more exciting than Patricia, who appears to be the conference’s Luke Kuechly, a sideline-to-sideline middle linebacker with great instincts and unrivaled tackling abilities. In 2012, as the Rookie of the Year in the NESCAC, Patricia totaled 85 tackles, the second most in the conference, and five tackles for a loss. He is a gap-closing, tackling machine who has already assumed the leadership mantle on defense. If the line in front of him opens lanes for him and the linebacking corps, Patricia could challenge the century mark for tackles and have close to double digit tackles for a loss. One area of his game that remains unproven is his ability to drop back in coverage. Unproven mostly because it wasn’t something we saw all that much from him in 2012 when he had one pass breakup and an acrobatic, diving interception on a tremendous defensive read. Whether Patricia drops into coverage more this season is something to watch, particularly with the team’s lack of depth in the secondary. Regardless of what Patricia is asked to do, however, there is little doubt that he will do it at a high level.

Matthew Crimmins: Crimmins was the unheralded star of the linebacking corps in 2012, when he was overshadowed by the all-conference level play of John Wiet and Patricia. While Crimmins didn’t accumulate the raw numbers that his linebacking mates did, he made numerous game-altering plays in 2012 with three forced fumbles and a blocked kick. Crimmins will need to fill in more consistently against the run this year, but his playmaking ability around the ball will be integral for a defense that only totaled seven sacks in 2012, the second fewest in the NESCAC. The Panthers were unable to generate any pressure in the pocket with their front four in 2012 and if Mandigo elects to bring more pressure this season, Crimmins would be at the top of the list.

Jared Onouye: Onouye is another playmaker on the defensive side of the ball, breaking up four passes and completing the most memorable play of the 2012 season when he took a lateral from John Wiet after a fumble recovery in the final game of the season and returned it for a touchdown. Onouye totaled 49 tackles last season and found a rhythm as a hard-hitting, but fundamentally-sound player after struggling with inconsistencies as a tackler earlier in his career. No player has benefited more, it seems, from the coaching of Mandigo, a defensive back in his day, than Onouye, who is poised to have a breakout senior season and should earn a spot on one of the All-NESCAC teams by season’s end.

Other Key Contributors

Matthew Benedict will be a name that NESCAC fans learn this year, though they should have last year. In 2012 Benedict led all defensive backs with 59 tackles as a sophomore, while also breaking up four passes. In a deep secondary that included ballhawks Dan Kenerson and Joel Blockowicz, as well as the aforementioned Onouye, Benedict went under appreciated as a key cog in Middlebury’s secondary last year. Playing alongside Onouye at the safety position, Benedict will continue to make plays this year and be better recognized for his efforts. On the defensive line Nick Burdeau and Jack Crowell return. The pair combined for 32 tackles in 2012, including 5.5 tackles for a loss. Behind them, linebacker Zach Faber should return after missing most of the 2012 season with injury. As a sophomore in 2011, Faber played in seven games and made 20 tackles. The Panthers will also receive a tremendous special teams boast with the return of specialist Mike Dola who also returns after missing the entire 2012 season with an injury. Dola is a strong-legged kicker and a player the coaching staff was excited about as freshman. If he stays healthy, Dola could make a significant special teams impact, primarily as a placekicker, but also as a punter.

Predictions and Analysis

Middlebury has made drastic improvements each season under the tutelage of Doug Mandigo, who will have more pieces to work with, but also more holes to fill. By far the biggest positional question mark defensively is at cornerback, which transitioned from a position of strength in 2012 to a complete unknown in 2013 with the graduation of Dan Kenerson and the absence of Joel Blockowicz (studying abroad). Again, the Panthers are fortunate that the position in question coincides with one of their two best position coaches. Mandigo will need to coach whichever players slide into those roles as the season progresses, but he has demonstrated his ability to take unproven players and effectively plug them into starting roles from day one. One need look no further than Tim Patricia for proof. What his second act holds in store will be immensely fun to watch. Will there be a Patricia-like player in the secondary this year? Might it be Matt Benedict who emerges and a difference-maker in the secondary? The answers to these questions will be answered shortly.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared.