Defensive rebuild

Published 9:51 am Monday, August 8, 2011

The Escambia County Blue Devils must revamp their secondary with only one returning starter coming back to play this fall. The strength of the defensive unit sits up front with the defensive line.|Photo by Chandler Myers

The old saying goes that “defense wins championships.” If that is true then the No. 10 Escambia County Blue Devils should be marked as one of the top contenders for this year’s 2011 Class 4A championship.

The Blue Devils relied on a strong defense last season and will look to anchor themselves on the defense again, but might possess an offense that could put up enough points to keep some pressure off the defensive players.

If the offense has trouble getting points on the board, the Blue Devils defense led by defensive coordinator Andy Lambert will be glad to step up to the challenge of holding opponents out of the end zone.

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As the Blue Devils prepare to move into the second week of practice, the focus of ECHS head football coach Mark Heaton and his staff is settling on replacing their secondary.

The Blue Devils have one starter back from 2010, so finding players to support the passing defense is important, Heaton said.

“The key for us will be getting stability in the secondary,” he said. “Last year, our secondary started out with one returning starter, but they played well. That’s the boat we are in this year with one returner, but we’ve got some guys that are stepping up to give us depth. At safety, we’ve got Marc Clark, Derrick Williams, Dre Riley and even Carl Staples. Those guys are giving us some depth that will help us. At corner, Derrious Pettway and D.J. McCarthy and Malcom English are in the rotation. We have a hand full of guys who will play and get better throughout the season.”

In front of the defensive backs, the experience increases with several defensive linemen and linebackers coming back to the 2011 unit.

With so much experience up front, the Blue Devils coaches have to only fill in one or two holes, Heaton said.

“Defensively, we are strong up front with a majority of our starters back,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of newcomers at linebacker with Walter Franklin and Davonte Walker. Those are guys that have done a good job for us in that spot. There are some holes to fill, but we feel we have a good shot to have guys in those spots.”

Having an experienced and strong front seven is important if the Blue Devils want to compete for their region.

Teams such as Thomasville and Jackson rely on strong running games, so the experience will help, Heaton said.

“Being in Region 1, we’ve got to stop the run first,” he said. “Having a majority of our interior guys back is going to be key for us. We feel like that’s where our strength needs to be and lucky for us that’s where it is. Our secondary will come on through the season.”

Despite being inexperienced, the Blue Devils secondary made strides throughout the summer.

The ability to work in a competitive atmosphere allowed them to learn the different coverages they will be in, Heaton said.

“They’ve done a good job as we’ve gone through practice,” he said. “With 7-on-7s, we were able to get those guys a ton of reps during the summer. They learned coverages and techniques, so they are ahead of the game on that. They’ve still got a ways to go in terms of getting aggressive and coming together as a unit. We hope the defensive front will carry us through the first part of the season with everything rounded together late.”

With three weeks until the Blue Devils’ opener at T.R. Miller, spots that need to be filled are still open for a starter to be named.

As of now, Heaton has not named any starters, but he said each player who is in the “rotation” is up for a starting role.

“The guys I’ve named are in a rotation,” he said. “As far as who will start on Friday nights that is still being determined.”

The strength of the unit without question is the defensive line as two college commitments look to anchor the defense.

Seniors Tyler Nero and Dalvin Craft lead the front seven, will look to blow up opposing offenses.

Even with a good linebacking corp, the defensive line stands out, Heaton said.

“Our defensive line is stout,” he said. “Our linebackers are solid, but defensive front is the strength.”