As the UofM football team participated in their third week of spring practices, it was clear defense was the primary focus. After dominating much of the scrimmage the previous week, more emphasis was placed on the unit to see what more they could do to continue their stellar play.
Defensive line progress is being brought to the forefront
Whether it be looking at the Tiger’s 2019 recruiting class or the changes made to the defensive staff, it’s evident the team has been prioritizing improving their pass rush. Last season, they had 37 sacks which ranked second behind Tulane for most in the conference.
New additions to the unit including defensive line coach Tim Edwards and edge rushers Everitt Cunningham and Kayode Oladele, were made to help ensure Memphis would rise up in the ranks.
East Mississippi Community College transfer Cunninghamspoke to the media about his expectation for his first season with the team and what his role will be in this new defense.
“I’m going to be playing the ‘fox’ position,” Cunningham said. “That means that my biggest goal is to rush the passer. I expect to make a big impact my first year here and to help lead the team.”
Edwards, a former University of Buffalo defensive line coach, also got a chance to speak the media and said that his main goal with the defensive line is to teach the fundamentals.
“I just want to instill the fundamentals,” Edwards said. “The beauty of the position that I coach is that I have simple things. If you can get your fundamentals and blocking tree down, you’ll get the opportunity to have a pass rush. These kids got talent. We just have to get it tuned in so those guys can have the most success.”
Josh Perry embraces new role at linebacker
One of the most notable position changes of the spring has been Perry’s transition from free safety to linebacker. Last season, he played in all 14 games with 65 combined tackles, a tackle for loss, seven pass deflections and a fumble recovery.
When asked by the media about his initial reaction to the position change, Perry told them he hadn’t been too surprised and that the move enhances the overall defense.
“I wasn’t too upset about it,” Perry said. “I knew coming in that this was going to be my new position, so I just took on my role. I think that with my experience at safety and then moving down, it allows our defense to be much faster.”
The reason for this move is probably La’Andre Thomas’ return to safety after missing the team’s last 10 games with a shoulder injury. For much of the spring, he’s been getting reps with the first team defense.
When asked by the media how he felt about finally being able to return to the field, Thomas said he’d been waiting for the moment for a very long time.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Thomas said. “I was really excited about the spring and anxious to get back out there. I feel good, and I’m just grateful to be back on the field.”
Team’s second scrimmage shows promise
After a mixed bag performance during the team’s first scrimmage, it was important to head coach Mike Norvell that his team did better in their second one.
Following the scrimmage, Norvell told the media he saw a much better effort from his team.
“I thought our guys did a great job of coming out with energy and passion,” Norvell said. “We talked beforehand about ‘showcasing your identity,’ and I thought there was a lot of good work. It was fast-paced, and it definitely improved from a week ago.”
Norvell said what he noticed most was how his players responded to making mistakes.
“It was fun to watch guys respond to adversity,” Norvell said. “Some guys responded in really good ways, and others just aren’t there yet. They just need to continue to be mentally tough and to grow.”