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Cal Poly's top goal is improving the defense
New defensive coordinator Josh Brown takes over a unit that was one of the worst statistically in the FCS in 2011
As much buzz as there was about newly promoted coordinator Josh Brown in charge of the Cal Poly defense for his first spring practice, the San Luis Obispo High graduate might have been upstaged by howling winds that whipped through the Upper Sports Complex on Wednesday morning.
Coupled with 50-degree temperatures, the breezy weather wrought havoc on everyone from Brown’s defenders to the Mustangs’ passing game to a pair of walk-on placekickers in their first practice since the end of last season.
“We know in the spring it gets windy in this area,” fourth-year Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said. “So, you have to come out and fight the conditions, and that can build some mental toughness too. I thought we did a good job of it today, but obviously, it’s frustrating for the offensive side of the ball. Trying to throw it in these conditions is not easy.”
For the defense, it might be more frustrating to look at last year’s statistical rankings, where the Mustangs were one of the bottom units in the Football Championship Subdivision.
“Our three goals are stop the run, compete for the ball and get turnovers,” said Brown, who was announced as the replacement for former defensive coordinator and current Colorado State assistant Greg Lupfer on Monday.
“Our opponents, when they turn on our film, I want them to say, ‘Man, they’re simple, but they play hard and they play fast and they execute.’ ”
Cal Poly did fare well stopping the run last season, allowing 128.36 yards per game and ranking 25th in the country.
But the Mustangs were second-to-last among 120 teams against the pass.
Cal Poly gave up 274 yards per game through the air in a 6-5 season where the Mustangs also ranked in the bottom seven in the FCS in third-down defense, allowing conversions 46.39 percent of the time, and in the bottom 30 in turnovers forced (16).
“It was just an inability to make plays when the time came for it,” senior middle linebacker Kennith Jackson said. “We weren’t making plays. Whether it was a dropped pick or somebody overdropping from where they needed to be by just a yard, it’s those little things, and that’s exactly what I think coach Brown is going to help us with.
“It’s the little things with him. Even when he was just my linebackers coach, he never lets us slack. He really demands a lot out of us. He holds us to a high level, and he’s never going to relax on that.”
Linebacker is one area relatively settled as Cal Poly moves into the spring. Jackson and junior outside linebacker Johnny Millard are returning starters, and sophomore Nick Dzubnar and junior Chris Judge are battling for the third spot.
After losing three starters each on both the defensive line and the secondary, expect there to be plenty of competition for snaps in those areas of the field.
Offensively, quarterback Andre Broadous — who accounted for 27 touchdowns in 2011 — returns for his senior season, sharing the backfield with senior running back Deonte Williams.
Walsh said he has a good grip on who the offensive starters will be. So, the spring will mainly be about lining up backups.
The one exception could be at receiver, where Walsh said as many as six guys are fighting for playing time.
Sophomores Lance Castaneda and Willie Tucker are the two leading returning receivers from last season. Castaneda had a team-high 26 catches. Tucker had two touchdowns.
Seniors Brandon Michalkiewicz, Ryan Taylor and Josh Swaney and redshirt freshman Jordan Hines are other options.
Even senior backup quarterback Doug Shumway received snaps lining up as a slot receiver Wednesday.
Another interesting battle figures to be at third-string quarterback. Walsh said he is eager to see what Cal Poly will get from redshirt freshman Chris Brown, a highly touted recruit when he signed last season out of Compton’s Dominguez High.
He’ll compete with junior Vince Moraga, who sat out all of last season. In the fall, both have to hold off incoming freshman Tanner Trosin, who set a state record passing for 5,185 yards at Folsom High in 2011.
There will also be a new kicker. After accounting for 86 points, including 15 field goals, junior James Langford abruptly transferred to Cal in the offseason.
The departure left the Mustangs with only one kicking specialist, punter Paul Hundley, but Walsh is quickly becoming sold on redshirt freshmen walk-ons Marco Tavecchio and Stephen Pyle.
Walsh said both kicked well despite Wednesday’s wind.
“We were not planning on the kicking thing,” Walsh said, but Langford “decided to leave. And he was good, but what I saw today, I don’t think we’re going to miss a beat, and we might gain something.
“Both of them have some talent, and I think both of these guys people are going to be surprised how good they are.”
By Jayson Mellom, San Luis Obispo Tribune