March 8, 2013
After catching up with the Northwestern offense line Tuesday, Skip Myslenski turns his attention, and yours, to the other side of the ball, where Pat Fitzgerald and defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz is looking to build on his unit's successes in 2012. Myslenski chats with returning Defensive MVP Tyler Scott and a player aiming for an increased role in 2013, safety Jimmy Hall, in his Friday practice report.
* THE EAT PRINCIPLE is the thing that now catalyzes the 'Cat defense, which was introduced to that system last spring. Back then, coming off a season in which it had often been shredded, its coaches were searching for a way to make it more aggressive, and so they told this unit to simply go and EAT. Execute. Attack. Trust.
"So what we try to do is really fly around now," explains the safety Jimmy Hall. "We're not waiting to make tackles. We're not waiting to make plays. We're being more active. We're being more physical. We're really going and getting the ball. We don't wait for the offense to make a play. We go hit them first."
"You can attack if you can execute and trust your teammates to be where they're supposed to be. You're not worried that you're the only guy out there," adds Mike Hankwitz
, the defensive coordinator and author of the acronym. "And we did get a lot more aggressive last year. That's one of the reasons we were better."
* THE 'CAT DEFENSE last year was surely far better than its immediate predecessor. That unit surrendered 27.7 points-per-game; last season's, just 22.5. That unit was nicked for 177.3 rushing and 407.7 total yards per-game; last season's, just 127.6 and 378.2. That unit recovered just eight fumbles and recorded only 17 sacks; last season those numbers were 16 and 28. So, we asked Pat Fitzgerald, did his defense take a step forward last year? "I think we took a step back the year before. Because of injuries. Because of listening to outside influences, and too many explosion plays," he said.
"I thought the previous couple of years we were on a positive progression of where we wanted to go, but then we had a dip. I thought the way Hank and the defensive staff, but most importantly the young men, the way they responded -- I talked about that a lot a year ago -- all right, we used the outside influences as a negative impact, let's use it as a positive impact. I thought they did well with that. Now it's even more important that we use the success as a great catalyst to taking the next step."
* LAST SPRING, with the critics' carping still fresh in its collective memory bank, the 'Cat defense was fueled to refurbish its image. The leaders of that reclamation project, Fitzgerald would often say back then, were linemen Brian Arnfelt and Quentin Williams and Tyler Scott, but now the first two of them are graduated and gone. Their mantles, then, now belong to Scott, the estimable end, and to the junior safety Ibraheim Campbell. The latter's message to this unit, says Jimmy Hall, is "To make every guy responsible for his actions. If you mess up, you've got to work to correct it."
Scott's, in turn, is, "Finish. When you're tired, when you're down, just finish. You've probably heard of 5-0-3. It's kind of our identity now. Plays where we just didn't hustle, or didn't communicate, or didn't finish a play. Didn't EAT. If we had done that for five minutes and three seconds (more), we would have been playing for the (Big Ten) championship."
* EARLY IN THE OFFSEASON, before spring practice begins, each 'Cat writes down his goals. On Tyler Scott's list was the expected fare, stuff like coming around the corner quicker and getting off blocks better and being more physical at the line of scrimmage. But then there was also this, which is how a unit grows, builds depth and has a chance to prosper. "One of them," says Scott himself, "was bringing the young guys along, being a leader, becoming a more vocal leader. I'm kind of a quiet guy on the field. But I'm coming out of my shell a little bit. I like bringing along the younger guys. I helped Q with it a lot last year. I felt I was in the same role as Q last year. That definitely helped me to be where I'm at right now. Without last year, I think I'd be lost."
And what's it take to bring them along?
"It takes patience. Lots of film. Lots of showing them through example. Calling them out when they're wrong and telling them what they did right just to keep them confident. I remember being a freshman and how complex our defense is and really focusing on the little techniques and stuff. I'm just trying to make it easier for them. I feel like we've taken a slower approach to what we're putting in right now, which is letting us play fast. Getting our techniques down, getting our hands and our fundamentals down, that will help going into the season."
* BY THE WAY: Scott ended last season with a Big Ten-best nine sacks and so we just had to wonder if there were any numbers among his goals. He smiled and then said, "Not yet."
* FITZGERALD, when asked about his defensive leaders, demurred. "It's still a work in progress," he then explained, but now he added this. "Obviously Tyler. I like where he's at right now. Tyler's going to be a guy who's going to leave a legacy here from his work ethic and the way he's committed to the program. To me, that's an unbelievable legacy."
* MORE DEFENSIVE TALK: Lineman Will Hampton, linebacker Damien Proby and safety Nick Van Hoose are among those sitting out spring practice. Those, Fitzgerald noted accurately, are three important elements to this unit, and each could also emerge as one of its leaders. . . Here is what he had to say about sophomore linebacker Drew Smith: "He thoroughly enjoys contact. I like guys who like contact at the linebacker level. He goes to bed dreaming about knocking somebody's lips off. He likes running around and doing that.". . . Then there was this on linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzzo: "The sky's the limit. He reminds me of a faster (Nick) Roach (currently with the Bears). He looks very similar, kind of came out of the womb in the football position. Always keeps his feet apart. Has great speed, great intell from the standpoint of being able to find the football and diagnose. Then he's got the garbage man mentality of Barry Gardner (a teammate of Fitzgerald in '95 and '96). It seemed Barry made every play when he was here. There was a fumble, it came to Barry. Tipped ball, Barry intercepted it. So I think he's got a unique combination of skill sets."
AND FINALLY, Fitzgerald, on the unit as a whole: "We're trying to figure out who are we right now, who are best 11 are. We've got a lot of guys out, so it's hard to tell ... But I like the group right now. We've got a lot of working parts, too. There's no ones and twos. There's just, 'Next up. Get in there.'"
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