MEQUON, Wis. – The opposition couldn't move the ball through the air last season, evident by the nation's No. 1-ranked pass defense, and the defensive backs naturally received all the credit for shutting down opposing wide receivers.
A year ago, the emphasis was on limiting the yards given up and it was successful when three opponents gained less than 200 yards. The downside was the limited amount of turnovers forced and big-time sacks.
A renewed sense of urgency surrounds the Falcons defense that ranked 32nd national in total defense and 69th in tackles for loss during the 2011 campaign. They know to increase its defensive numbers – eight interceptions, six fumble recoveries and 13 sacks, all of which ranked near the bottom of the NAC – the defensive line will have to be more disruptive and cause havoc like it has never done before.
Experience limits the number of mental mistakes made and Concordia University Wisconsin's savvy group of defensive lineman should set the tone for a season of big plays.
Matt Lechler (New Holstein, Wis.) is one of three seniors on the defensive line returning from last year. Along with Garett Nekolny (Coral Springs, Fla.) and Derek Rehfeldt (Brown Deer, Wis.) the Falcons have leadership at a position that is vital to causing headaches for offensive lineman, quarterbacks, and the like.
"We have a lot of veterans returning on the defensive line this season," defensive coordinator Adam Walker said. "The key is going to be our pass rush, which certainly helps our linebackers and secondary. We did well against the run last season, but we need to do the small things better."
The small technical adjustments will help limit the 140.9 yards allowed on the ground last season, a number that ranked sixth out of eight teams in the NAC.
"The defensive line needs to set the tone," Lechler said. "We are the first line of attack that is going to start or stop the opposing offense. We have a lot of experience returning and yes, we had the No. 1-ranked pass defense, but it made our run defense look weak. We need to get better."
The emergence of defensive lineman Uzziel McDermit (sophomore, Kansaville, Wis.) allowed a defensive back such as John Palese (junior, West Bend, Wis.) to roam the secondary with ease. It never fails to see a cornerback or safety high stepping down the sideline after an interception; however, it's the big men doing the dirty work up front that makes those highlight reel plays happen.
"Defensive backs get a lot of glory for stopping the pass and making big plays," Palese said. "But it's the defensive line that has to get penetration and disrupt the quarterback before anything else can happen."
Game-changing plays, interceptions and sacks are on the horizon; hopefully fans can recognize what the big men do in the trenches matters the most.