By BEN JOHNSON
Northeastern State players and coaches realize it. They’re not going to hide from reality. They’ll own up to it.
The RiverHawks were dreadful when it came to tackling the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage in 2012. They ranked dead last in sacks in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association.
NSU ended up with a mere 11 sacks in 10 games last season. The RiverHawks were one behind Lincoln for 14th place, but they trailed Missouri Western, the conference leader, by 20 takedowns.
In fact, not a single NSU player ranked anywhere close to the top 20 in the league in sacks last year. Linebacker Langston Jones was NSU’s sacking extraordinaire with...two. Two others registered a sack and a half, and everyone else on the list topped out at either one or a half sack.
Not exactly a defense’s dream.
But, NSU is now trying to use last season’s deficiency as a motivator.
“We’ve come in with a new approach,” NSU defensive end James Renfrow said. “Last year, we were kind of not as technical as (should have been). This year, I think we’re going to be more technically sound.”
Credit for that goes to new defensive line coach Casey Carlo. The former Texas A&M-Commerce coach has reverted back to focusing more on basic technique.
“His approach is more technical based,” said Renfrow, a 6-foot-2, 235-pound junior from Broken Arrow.
“We weren’t really as focused on that as before. And I think with this new approach, we should be able to rush the passer more effectively. We should also be more sound up front to stop the run, with our steps and the way we read blocks. We aren’t just running up field as much anymore; we’re staying at the line of scrimmage, which should help us hold our gap a lot easier.”
Another important ingredient in NSU’s pass rush this season will be girth. That’s right, body mass will play a key role. However, not with the defensive ends, but with the tackles and nose guards in the middle.
It will be Faatetai Te’o (305 pounds), Kenley Choute (310), Kenny Garrett (290), Bobby Pointer (287) in charge of commanding double teams to allow the pass rushers to race around the edge.
“It’s pretty nice to have those guys in the middle,” Renfrow said. “They keep things pretty blocked up...we have some pretty good interior guys, and I’m excited to see what they can do.”
Further adding to the point, Evans said, “When you’re able to single-block some guys, it makes it tough on those edge rushers. I don’t think that people will be able to do that with Te’o and Choute, and even some of the young guys like Reuben Washington and Bobby Pointer.”
As for Renfrow, he’s playing yet another season on his surgically-repaired left arm. During his freshman campaign, Renfrow injured his elbow while playing at Arkansas-Monticello, and he was forced to have Tommy John surgery.
Then he bounced back and played in all 10 games for the RiverHawks in 2012.
So how’s the arm holding up now?
“Ten times stronger,” Renfrow said. “Still have to wear the brace, though. (Trainer) Jimmy (Bloomcamp) won’t let me put that up yet, so I have to play with it throughout the season.”