After the departure of eight starters and three key reserves, Tiger football coach Justin Fuente and defensive coordinator Galen Scott will look for new leaders to step up on the defensive side of the ball.
As one of the only returning starters from last season, Reggis Ball, a senior safety, understands he will be a guy the younger players look to for leadership. He played a key role in the Tigers’ defensive success last season, recording 36 total tackles, two fumble recoveries and an interception.
Ball said he wants the team to focus on going 1-0 every week and learning the game mentally.
“Take everyday seriously,” he said. “Take everyday as if you’re going 1-0. Attack everyday with the 1-0 mentality. That way at the end of the week you can always know you went 1-0. Understand concepts and (the opposing team’s) offense. Understand your defense. Understand our own weakness, because when you understand your own weakness you understand what to protect and what you can allow a receiver to do.”
Ball explained filling the void left behind by players such as former linebacker Charles Harris will not be an easy task, but he fully believes that his team is up for the challenge.
“Naturally some of those shoes are going to be filled, but some shoes it’s just going to have to take work to fill,” said Ball, prior to the start of preseason camp. “Like Charles (Harris). He played a major role in our defense last year. He played a big role in having our front seven be as good as we were, so that’s some big shoes to fill. But we got linebackers that can do that. We’ve got smart linebackers that can have everyone in place. It’s just the fact of practicing it and actually getting in football mode for camp, that’s when leaders will expose themselves.”
Ball said he expects multiple guys across the defense to step up and lead this year, and wants them to focus on the mental aspect of the game.
“There are a few guys I know that can step up,” he said. “The whole defense has guys everywhere that can step up as leaders. We just have to mold together and get our chemistry. We have to stay in the game mentally. Get the mental part down. The physical ability, we got it, but we need to get the mental part more tuned in, more focused and disciplined.”
Although Memphis lost a ton of production on defense, Fuente said he doesn’t believe his team will drop off on that side of the football.
“Well I’ll tell you this, coming out of the spring I didn’t fell like and I’m sure the defensive kids will say this too, it didn’t look as if the offense was a head of the defense,” he said. “If you were just measuring it in the spring, I think the defense was probably more productive. We’ll see were we are at on both sides. We do have a little bit more game experience offensively, but we have a bunch of defensive kids that have played in games and have been productive in games. We will just see how the development of it goes. We will see how that goes and ultimately try and find the correct balance it takes to win the game. Whatever it takes to win the game and how we need to tweak the scheme or our own identity in order to find the best way to try to win.”
For any fan worried about the state of the defense, Ball had one message for them.
“Just watch,” he said. “Just wait and see. I’m not worried about any of that. I’m glad that the offense got some hype because we haven’t had hype on the offensive side, so I’m glad they’re getting that shine, but to be worried about it, no we are just going to give them the ball more so they can score more points.”