TERRE HAUTE —
With the snow melting at Memorial Stadium, the Indiana State football team was still getting plenty of work done Tuesday afternoon during the Sycamores’ important first spring under new coach Mike Sanford.
Maintaining an outstanding defense will be vital to their ability to build upon last season’s success and several key defenders have been lost, particularly in the front seven.
Associate head coach and defensive coordinator Brian Cabral is enjoying his challenge with the Sycamores after spending 24 years coaching at his alma mater, Colorado. Cabral was an All-American linebacker for the Buffaloes before spending six of his eight years in the NFL with the Chicago Bears.
He faces the challenge of replacing three starting linebackers and an All-American defensive end (Ben Obaseki) on a defense that was one of the stingiest in the Football Championship Subdivision in 2012.
Aaron Archie and Jacoby Washington have graduated and Georgia native Tarris Batiste has joined former ISU coach Trent Miles at Georgia State.
“We’ve got some experience in the front, but we’re brand new at linebacker,” Cabral said Tuesday. “It’s a good young group. I’m real pleased with this group of guys.
“You can’t replace experience, though. You can’t substitute experience. These guys are going to have to grow up fast.”
Connor Underwood, an honorable-mention All-Missouri Valley Football Conference player last year, will play a true defensive end position in 2013. He was a pass-rushing specialist at outside linebacker last fall, leading the Sycamores with six sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss.
“I had a good year last year, but I’m not satisfied with it at all. I really want to strive to get better and help us win more games,” Underwood said.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound sophomore is excited to see Cabral’s 4-3 system in action as the team adjusts to new personnel up front in a new system.
“With our entire new staff, they’re all very smart. Coach Cabral knows what he’s doing. It gives us confidence knowing our defense is going to work with his past success,” Underwood added.
The Sycamores have added aid at linebacker. T.J. Tuuu is a junior transfer whom the new coaching staff brought in from Monterey Peninsula College, a junior college program in California.
The 6-2, 215 pounder is the favorite to start at strong-side linebacker, Cabral said.
“T.J. Tuuu is everything we expected and so right now I see him at our SAM,” Cabral said.
Kendal Walker, a 6-0, 220-pound sophomore out of Cincinnati’s Moeller High School, leads the way at middle linebacker. He had a season-high six tackles against South Dakota in 2012, but played mostly on special teams.
Cabral mentioned George Stone, a 6-1, 215-pound redshirt freshman out of Louisville’s St. Xavier, as the frontrunner at weak-side linebacker.
Ian Allen, a 6-3, 230-pound sophomore, is out for the remainder of spring with a dislocated big toe, but Cabral said there was “no question” he will be in the mix when August comes around.
Beau Shields sits behind Walker on the depth chart at this point, while Gerrick Ratliff, a 220-pounder out of Chicago, is behind Stone on the weak side. Jess Harris, a 5-9, 200-pound outside linebacker from Whiteland, also adds depth on the strong side.
Indiana State will have a public scrimmage April 5 and Cabral looks forward to seeing how his group of linebackers is progressing.
“I’m looking to see if they can get lined up and execute the defense. It’s a totally different defense,” Cabral said. “Anytime something is new to everybody, it’s going to be how well, how fast can they pick things up. I’m pleased with how everyone’s picking things up so far.”