Last Modified: Monday, August 06, 2012 11:09 PM
This season, there is no debating the two things McNeese State must do better if it wants to return to the playoffs: Stop taking sacks and start making sacks.
The Cowboys ranked seventh in the Southland Conference last season in sacks allowed as well as in sacks by the defense.
Though it seems mutually exclusive, McNeese is starting to show signs of improvement in both areas, particularly during Monday’s two-a-day practices.
“So far we’ve done a better job protecting, understanding assignments and understanding hot throws. Every day I try to put the quarterback in the worst situation he can be in. They’ve handled it well,” said coach Matt Viator. “I’m very encouraged (by the defensive line.) We’re a little bigger inside than we’ve been. We’re trying to push the (offensive) line to free up your linebackers so they can run.”
The offensive line and running backs did a solid job picking up blitzes during a 30-minute team drill in the afternoon as quarterback Cody Stroud was regularly able to get rid off the ball on check-downs before the pressure got to him.
“We put three or four new protections in that I really think it's going to pay dividends this season,” Stroud said. “But speaking from a quarterback standpoint, we’ve got to get better at seeing things from a coverage standpoint. We’ve got to try and get in their minds and know what they’re doing.”
Stroud is not shy about the fact he was too slow to get rid of the ball on multiple occasions last season. His problem was not unlike that of quarterbacks who throw bad interceptions trying to create a play that isn’t there — only instead of turning the ball over, he was getting hit.
“That was my biggest weakness, holding onto the ball a little too long,” Stroud said. “I guess that’s just the competitor in me, wanting to make a play downfield.”
Stroud said Viator explained things to him in golf terms before practice started last spring.
“You’ve got to try to take your pars, as coach always says,” Stroud explained. “You’ve got to take what’s given you. You can’t always go downfield on a bomb.”
Stroud joked that this year he realizes he can just hit a 4-iron instead of always trying to go for the green with a 3-wood out of the fairway.
Stroud’s short game is certainly looking better, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any penetration coming from the defensive line.
Multiple running plays were wiped out in the backfield Monday, and the line created decent pressure when in a four-man rush.
Defensive end Chris Loveless said the unit was embarrassed to see where it ranked statistically last year.
“Our coaches at the end of the season last season showed our rankings, and we were 108th in pass rush,” Loveless said. “Which is horrible.”
Loveless said defensive line coach Manny Michel went back to the drawing board in the offseason, and some new wrinkles are starting to benefit the group.
“Coach Michel changed up a lot of his technique for us to be able to push the pocket better and create more pressure,” Loveless said. “It’s been good. Last year, we were pretty young. Everyone has a season under their belt as far as wanting to learn it and getting it done.”