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WCU Conversation with Defensive Coordinator, Matt Pawlowski
With two practices remaining this spring, Western Carolina Defensive Coordinator Matt Pawlowski took time to discuss spring football practice from the defensive perspective and this weekend’s annual Spring Game.
Western Carolina held its 13th of the NCAA-mandated 15 spring practices on Wednesday morning and will break until Friday for the 14th session in preparing for Saturday’s game. The WCU Spring Football game will be held at 1:00 pm on Saturday April 25th at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field.
“We’ve tried to accomplish the same things that we worked on a year ago; establish a depth chart and try and find out who our starters are going to be; who can play multi-type positions. And then, get better fundamentally and gain a better understanding of our defense in the calls, the adjustments, alignment and assignment,” opened Pawlowski in reference to this year’s spring practice.
He added, “Experience cures a lot of aches and pains in terms of learning from one year to the next. Our young men now understand what our defensive calls mean whereas last year it was all brand new to them. We are certainly getting lined up better; our communication is 100-percent better than it was a year ago. You are going to have an opportunity to be a good defense if at the snap of the ball you’ve got 11 guys on the same page. Then comes the execution of their technique and playing fundamentally sound.”
Pawlowski has had a pair of new faces in helping him coach the defensive unit. Associate head coach Brad Sherrod has made the move from running backs coach to the defense with the linebackers, allowing Pawlowski to move to the defensive secondary as a position coach. Also, Justin Roberts joined the staff this spring from Tennessee State to work with the defensive line.
“Those guys have had to catch on to what we are doing defensively first off, but have done a tremendous job here this spring,” said Pawlowski of Sherrod and Roberts.
Individually on the defensive side of the ball, Pawlowski was very complimentary of two returning senior leaders in cornerback Antoine George and defensive back/linebacker, Chris Collins.
“(Antoine) George has done an outstanding job this spring. He had some off-season surgery, but has done a tremendous job in rehabbing and has done a tremendous job of being a senior leader. He has done a nice job in improving over the 13 practices we have had through this point. And Chris Collins, playing our nickel, you can tell that with a year’s experience that he’s a lot better of a player.”
He also complimented the spring that linebackers Chaz Jackson and Adrian McLeod were having in getting better in preparation for the 2009 season. In addition to Eric Robinson and Ricky Schwarz, Pawlowski referred to the linebacker corps as “solid.”
One area that has yet to be truly tested through the spring drills is the defensive front line. According to Pawlowski, three defensive linemen missed part of or all of spring drills due to a variety of reasons; John Julien, Justin Collins and Gene Singletary have been sidelined during the 15 practice dates.
“Gene Singletary was having an outstanding spring (prior to his injury),” Pawlowski complimented. “He has gotten bigger, stronger, and we were doing some different things with him up front. He was really a force to be reckoned with. He has missed the last handful of practices, but will be ready to go for the summer conditioning.”
Newcomer defensive linemen in red-shirt freshman Bevans Robbs and rising sophomore Trey Selby, as well as Charles and C.J. Johnson have also caught the coordinator’s eye this spring with their work ethic and play on the field.
Practice most days has included individual instruction per position, as well as unit work before bringing it all together offense versus defense. Pawlowski has enjoyed watching the improvement of his defensive unit, as well as matching wits with Keith Heckendorf and the other offensive coaches in competitive drills.
“Each day it’s a chess match. There are days that they come out and whip our rear ends and there are days that we go out and whip them. And you really hope that happens in spring practice because that means that you are having very competitive, spirited practices,” said Pawlowski.
Western Carolina will have one additional practice opportunity prior to Saturday afternoon’s Spring Football game. Festivities surrounding the annual event begin with tailgating at 10:00 am, with the Catamount Club hosting the “Purple Zone” at the Jordan-Philips Field House beginning at 11:30 am.
“This is the finale,” Pawlowski on the spring game. “We’re trying to get our guys to understand that there are going to be fans in the stands. It’s going to be a game-like situation with a clock, officials; there is going to be a game-like aurora. They will get hyped up, but they have to be able to play every snap – don’t look ahead, don’t look behind. Play 100-percent, 100-percent of the time; enjoy the experience but get better as a result of the experience.”
Overall, Pawlowski has been pleased with the progress made by the defensive unit during this spring practice season.
“With the limited numbers in our program and the limited time that we have to work with them, these young men have to learn as much mentally with mental reps – whether it be in a walk-through or a film session, on a piece of paper or a chalk board. We always talk about not wasting a rep; don’t waste a practice; don’t waste a day. Try to get better every day,” concluded Pawlowski.
By Western Carolina University Sports Information